ALBANIA: Sworn virgins

An brief look into Albania’s custom of sworn virgins – women who take an oath of celibacy and then live as a man, fully accepted into male spaces and male roles. These vows have often happened when there are no men left in the family, or by women to escape an arranged marriage, or sometimes purely voluntarily – in a very patriarchal system, it allows a woman to live much more freely.

The custom is tied into the same Kanun codes that blood feuds belong to, and set out larger interpersonal and societal relationships in northern regions of Albania. These traditions have been dying out, though there was a resurgence after the fall of communism as structure was needed to fill the gaps left by the state as it collapsed. While these oaths still occur occasionally, most sworn virgins are older – the decision happens less and less as traditional patriarchal gender roles erode and women exercise rights in their own capacity as women.

I’m tagging this with the LGBTQ tag, mainly as it deals with gender identity, but sworn virgins are not to be confused with trans men. Sworn virgins are women living as men, and doing so inside a very strict gender binary – this oath is often taken because of external factors, and most sworn virgins do not consider themselves transgender.

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