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.