Imagine being trapped in the body of another gender that your natural biological functions don’t relate to – all this by choice! This is somewhat the life of some of the women who live in Northern Albania.
Known as Albanian Sworn Virgins or mashkulls (a variety of terms is used to refer to them), these women do not indulge in sexual activity forever and dress as a male for their entire life. That is not it. After taking a vow of celibacy, they get to ‘enjoy’ all ‘male’ luxuries that women aren’t allowed to do.
Sounds strange? There are around 102 such Albanian Sworn Virgins in the world, according to National Geographic.
They take the oath in front of twelve village elders after which they are allowed to wear male clothes, drink alcohol, carry a gun, smoke, take up male jobs etc. Just one oath and their entire life becomes that of the opposite sex.
This tradition sprang out of The Code of Lekë Dukagjini, that was a code of rules and law used from the 15th century for 500 years in Kosovo and Albania. This ‘Kanun’ was highly discriminatory towards women. Women weren’t allowed to vote or even wear a watch!
One must wonder under what circumstance would a woman become a sworn virgin? Will it be to support her family in a society that refuses to accept women? Or to find a standing for her aspirations that were possible to achieve only after she became a ‘male’? Or to avoid a marriage she did not desire?
It is really ironic how a woman dressed in a male’s clothes but still very much a female beneath is accepted but a woman dressed like a female who has sex isn’t. What also comes to mind is the constant conflict the sworn virgins go through – their health, their likings, their emotions – what if they fall in love? How do they deal with menstruation? There are so many things to ponder upon.
Sarah Andersen and Karen Swenson in their book, Cold Counsel: Women in Old Norse Literature and Mythology: A collection of essays, state that should a female die in a blood feud, it was counted as a half life, but if a male died, the bloody money would be calculated as that of a full life. Albanian Sworn Virgins were allowed to participate in blood feuds and theirs was counted to be a full life.
The breaking of this vow of celibacy was once punishable by death however this punishment isn’t practiced. Instead, the women who break the oath are no longer accepted in the community and are isolated.
Stana Cerovic and Tringe Smajli are some known sworn virgins.
There is another line of thought – did women find freedom by becoming sworn virgins?
Preview Photo: chatelaine.com