Sworn Virgins


Sokol Zmajli, aged 80, changed her name from Zhire to the male name... News PhotoAdult,Agriculture,Albania,Communism,Cross Dressing,Domestic Animals,European Alps,Farm,Farmer,Goat,Herd,Human Interest,Identity,Kosovo,Men,Mountain,Mountain Range,Outdoors,Sheep,Shepherd,Square,Waist Up,WomenPhotographer Collection: Getty Images News 2006 Ben SpeckBAJRAM CURRI, KOSOVO, ALBANIA: Sokol (Zhire) Zmajli, aged 80, changed her name from Zhire to the male name Sokol when she was young. She heads the family household consisting of her nephew, his wife, their sons and their wives. In her life, she has been a shepherd in the high mountains of Valbona, and worked for the communist party action group in construction, roadworks and in logging. 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 ***