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Albanian sworn virgins

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Albanian Sworn Virgins (virgjëresha) are women that take a vow to remain virgins for their entire life and in return they become men in society.

In parts of northern Albania families follow a code of ethics called Kanun. Kanun is not a religious document, but according to it families must be patrilineal and patrilocal. Based on the document, women are treated very much like property of the family. Taking a vow on the Kanun to become a man was usually done at a very early age. Once the vow is taken, the woman becomes a man and in society she will be referred to as a he. She will work like a man, dress like a man, talk like a man, and the community will treat her like a man.

There are many reasons why a woman would have taken this vow. Some wanted to avoid an arranged marriage while others were forced by their father because there were no sons left to look after the family. Taking the vow to become a man was a way to avoid an arranged marriage without dishonoring the groom's family and creating a blood feud. Breaking the vow was once punishable by death. It is unclear whether this punishment is still carried out. Many sworn virgins today still refuse to go back on their oath, not out of fear of punishment but because the community would still reject them for breaking their vow.

In modern Albania the practice is slowly dying out. Many young girls respect the sworn virgins but would never take such an oath themselves. Current statistics show that there are less than forty sworn virgins left in Albania, and perhaps a few in neighboring countries, and most of these are over fifty years old.

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