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An Afghan woman forced to dress as a man

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

The photograph below, was taken on March 11, 2018 and shows Afghan femal laborer Sitara Wafadar, 18, wo dresses as a male in order to support her family, posing for a brick factory in Sultanpur village in Surkh Rod District, in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar Province.

Sitara Wafadar, has disguised herself as a boy for more than a decade so that she can work and perform other male-only duties for her impoverished Afghan family.

In Afghanistan’s patriarchal society, AFP reports, a cross-dressing custom known as “bacha poshi” allows for daughters to dress as men and, in so doing, essentially function as sons.

Wafadar, who has five sisters and no brothers, says she has always wanted to grow her hair long and go to school. But her family’s debt to a local factory owner — incurred in order to pay for the medical expenses of her diabetic mother — means that both she and her father have to work there six days a week as bonded laborers.

Each day, Wafadar makes 500 bricks — and receives just over $2 in return.

Like her four older sisters, Wafadar started making bricks at the factory at the age of 8. But unlike her sisters, who are now married, she has gone on working at the factory — dressing as a man in order to do so.

For the sake of her father, she adds, she also poses as the family’s eldest son in public, appearing at events such as funerals that girls are normally barred from attending.

I never think I am a girl,” she told AFP. “My father always says ‘Sitara is like my eldest son.’”

Normally, bacha poshi stop dressing as boys after reaching puberty. But in order to protect herself from rape or kidnapping at the factory, Wafadar says, she has “no choice” but to continue concealing her gender.

As the days pass, however, she can’t help but imagine what her life would have been like if her parents had managed to have conceived a son.

“When I put on boys’ clothes I wish I had a brother,” she admitted. “Then my dreams would have been fulfilled.”

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