This is an excerpt from a blog I wrote for the Independent. Click the link to read the rest:
For women in the Arab world, cross-dressing can be a way of accessing masculine power and privilege. In September 2010 a widely circulated New York Times article covered the practice, believed to be fairly common in Afghanistan, of raising daughters as sons due to social and economic pressures. Dressing as a boy allows these girls to have freedom of movement and educational opportunities they would likely otherwise be denied. But it means renouncing the social cachet that women do have, at least until puberty where most Afghani bacha poshare told to renounce their boyish ways.
Young women who dress as men in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are currently getting a lot of attention. Unlike the girls of Afghanistan, these Emerati boyat are not blending seamlessly into society as boys, able to take advantage of social privileges they’d otherwise miss out on. Instead, they have long faced widespread criticism from traditionalists. This includes a 2009 campaign targeted at them titled “Excuse me, I’m a girl” stressing the myriad virtues of femininity. According to a human rights report issued by the US Department of State, the campaign included “psychological treatment and social counselling” for young boyat.