In a Nutshell
Albania and Macedonia are currently the only places in Europe that have a socially defined set of rules that will permit a woman to obtain the rights of a man. In order to do this, the person must take a vow of chastity and become a sworn virgin.
The Whole Bushel
Albania is a small country located in Southeastern Europe. Since the 15th century, people in this area of the world have followed a set of traditional rules known as the “Kanun.” The Kanun is a controversial set of laws because it does not respect the basic human rights of women. According to the rules, once a woman is married, she can’t vote, wear a watch, smoke, buy land, enter certain buildings, or hold certain occupations. In Northern Albania, adultery can be punishable by death and the area is known to diminish the role of women in society.
The Kanun includes a law that states that women can take a vow of chastity and become a sworn virgin. This involves presenting yourself in front of a group of 12 tribal elders and swearing that you will never have sex again. The women are then forced to dress like a man, act like a man, and never make any sexual advances toward men. After taking the vow, the women will be allowed to act socially with men, sing and dance, drink alcohol, carry a gun, and perform male work.
In Albania, some women are forced to become sworn virgins by their parents who don’t want them to be married. On the other hand, a large percentage of voluntary sworn virgins are attempting to escape arranged marriages, while others want to make their parents proud, gain certain jobs, or obtain the basic freedoms associated with being a man.
Additionally, Albania is known for blood feuds. If you are involved in a blood feud in the country, the fighting will continue until all male members of one family are dead. If a sworn virgin is killed in a blood feud, it is counted as a full death, while other women are counted as half.
When the Soviet bloc fell, women in Albania were given more rights, but the northern sections of the country still follow the Kanun. Albania and Macedonia are currently the only areas of Europe that have a socially defined female-to-male–cross-gender. A similar practice is found in Native American tribes in North America.
Show Me The Proof
Crossing Boundaries: Albania’s Sworn Virgins
Sworn Virgins: Cases of Socially Accepted Gender Change
At home with Albania’s last sworn virgins
Beliefs and Traditions: Sworn Virgins