BURRNESHA. Albanian Sworn Virgins. Albania, 2014


“Burrnesha” in Albanian burrë-man, – neshë a feminizing suffix.

An ancient social phenomenon disciplined by the Kanun (an Albanian medieval canon of laws).

Through strict rules, a woman has the right to proclaim herself as a man, to earn all the rights that the Kanun reserves exclusively to men. A social metamorphosis led by reasons far from psycho-sexual.

This phenomenon exist from at least 200 years, challenging political and cultural precepts in the ultraconservative Albania. Burrneshas persisted during the national-communist regime, and they are present in Muslim families as well as Christian.

The transformation requires that the woman is a virgin, and with an irreversible oath demand the total abstention from sexual life. Twelve men, witnesses of the ritual, who were in charge of murder in case of breaking the oath.

After the oath, the Sworn Virgins takes on male behavior,  takes a man’s name, can be armed, and take part of the social life where women are not allowed. They also acquires the right to sell, buy and manage properties and take part of a blood feud between clans.

The conversion of women in men especially had a socio-economic function. It was used to convert a daughter for heritage business if a lack of men heirs, or even to prevent new blood feuds or engagement refusal. However, some women have voluntarily chosen to become men, to be freer, to gain the same rights of a man.

Significant social and political changes are affecting today’s Albania leading this tradition towards the end.

Only a few dozen burrneshas still exist.





LAMPEDUSA. Italy, 2011.

On 17th December 2010 Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, 26-year old, set himself on fire in protest of the harassment inflicted on him by the Police. His act became a symbol of the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, the wrath of the population exploded in demonstrations and riots that led to overthrowing the main regimes of the Maghreb’s states.

The outcome is the establishment of military transitional governments while the old settlers states overlook the settlement policy. The trans-Mediterranean migration flows will also dramatically increase, leading to record shocking numbers of victims drowned and disappeared.

The lack of management by the Italian government will lead to overcrowding of the CIE (Centre for Identification and Expulsion): thousands of refugees will be abandoned in the streets without adequate assistance.

After the first landings the Italian government will adopt the controversial policy of repatriation and will declare “national state of emergency”, which will make the rescue operations even more dangerous and complex.

The failure of the Italian migration policy is the main reason for the “clandestine” social status of many refugees, fostering favourable conditions for exploitation and illegal employment of immigration.

Mohamed BouaziziMohamed Bouazizi
 29 March 1984 – 4 Jenuary 2011