Sworn Virgins


Haki Shehu, aged 66, at home in Tplan. She has always lived alone,... News PhotoAdult,Agriculture,Albania,Communism,Cross Dressing,Domestic Animals,European Alps,Farm,Farmer,Goat,Herd,Human Interest,Kosovo,Men,Mountain,Mountain Range,Outdoors,Sheep,Shepherd,Square,Waist Up,WomenPhotographer Collection: Getty Images News 2006 Ben SpeckTPLAN, KOSOVO, ALBANIA: Haki Shehu, aged 66, at home in Tplan. She has always lived alone, and says 'I am a man and thats it. This whole farm belongs to me only, and I work very hard. Why should I mind living alone? I have a lot of honour in this village and people visit me. Why do you come here and ask these questions? I don't have time for you. I am very busy.' In the patriarchal rural Albanian society the age-old tradition of the Virgjineshe ('sworn virgins') gives women the choice of taking on a male identity in order to enjoy male privileges. Becoming a 'sworn virgin' means to vow lifelong celibacy and to turn into a surrogate son to her father. The reasons for taking the vow are a lack of sufficient men in a family to carry out the men's work, or the lack of a headstrong man to become the head of the family. A woman might also escape an unwanted arranged marriage, without damaging family honour or she might want to be independent to travel and work as she pleases. Often the decision is made by the family head e.g. her father, grandfather or uncle. The girl or woman then acquires a male name, male clothes and a male haircut. With the new status she obtains all the male privileges, such as inheriting property, making decisions within the family and the community, being able to carry weapons, taking part in blood feuds and socializing freely with men. They are completely accepted and addressed as men by other members of their community and often behave more manly than the men. The occurrence of Tobelija is most common in and around Bjesket e Nemuna (The Accursed Mountains) covering the northern regions of Albania and bordering regions of Montenegro and Kosovo. (Photo by Ben Speck/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***