As one of Albania’s last sworn virgin, I regret nothing. Had I chosen to live the life of a traditional woman, I wouldn’t have been able to inherit property, work outside, smoke a cigarette or even wear a watch for that matter!
When I was in born in Berat, my birth was celebrated (or not) by painting the main beam of the house black as a token of the family’s disappointment. Even today, pregnant women are greeted with të lindtënjëdjalë ("May a son be born"). Had I been a boy, I would have been named Ujk (Wolf) or Luan (Lion) but I was named Mjaftime, which means ‘Enough’
In conservative northern Albania, a woman and an animal are considered the same thing. While counting blood money to settle a feud, the death of a man or a sworn virgin is counted as a full-life rather than the half-life ordinarily accorded for a female death. According to medieval laws handed down orally for generations (known as Kanun), a woman is a sack made to endure.
A few years later, my father died without leaving a male heir. I was to be sold as a bride and submit to being beaten while continually bearing and raising children. A male relative would give my husband a bullet wrapped in straw along with the dowry, to be used on me if I ever disobeyed him.
I valued my freedom. If I wanted inherit my father’s wealth and live a respected life, I had to commit to being a sworn virgin. After trading my skirt for my fathers’ baggy trouser and chopping off my long black curls, I stood in front of 12 village elders, swearing an irrevocable oath to practice celibacy. I would now wear clothes like a man, talk like a man and even carry a gun like a man. For the first time that day, I ate and drank with men instead of being restricted to the kitchen.
I have forgotten what it is like to play with a doll or wear a skirt. Maybe in another life, I would get to know what it feels like to be a mother. But I can’t go back on my oath now, the punishment for that is death.
Although it is estimated that less than 100 sworn virgins now exist, the collapse of the communist regime could encourage more Albanian women to take this vow. A similar practice in Afghanistan known as Bacha Posh exists. I sometimes wonder, how many women in India, specially rural India, would be willing to take up such a practice just to get the respect of the society and the right to follow their dream?