Skip Nav
Real Weddings
The Groom's Tearful Reaction to Seeing His Bride Is the Absolute Sweetest
This Couple Showed Their Love For Travel With the Cutest Airport Engagement Shoot
The Telling Sign You're in a Toxic Relationship and Need to Get Out Now

Powersuit of Tradition: Sworn Virgins In Albania Are Dwindling

In Albania, gender equality has a literal meaning — and a less modern, more traditional translation that your 9 to 5 or Working Girl tropes. For centuries, sworn virginity has allowed woman to live as men, with all the responsibilities and rights that accompany the role in a conservative society.

In closed-off rural northern Albania, the practice of swapping genders was a practical solution motivated by social necessity, for a family with a shortage of men. One woman decided to make the change after her father was killed leaving no male heir. The custom she chose requires a vow of lifetime virginity — in exchange for living as a man with all the authority the gender commands — including the obligation to avenge her father’s death. Though she says she wouldn't necessarily do it now, then it was an easy decision:

Back then, it was better to be a man because before a woman and an animal were considered the same thing. Now, Albanian women have equal rights with men, and are even more powerful. I think today it would be fun to be a woman.

With sexual equality and modern trappings seeping into Albania (including MTV which popped in after the fall of the Berlin Wall) the tradition is fading. Not needing to make the vow to own property, move freely, or avoid an arranged marriage, now there are only about 40 sworn virgins remaining. The decision not only created equality in life, it created equality in worth. A woman is worth is half that of a man, but a virgin is worth the same as a man — 12 oxen.

The changes of modern times don't sit well with all the sworn virgins. To see why,


One, who served as a senior army officer, grumbles that women do not know their place.

Today women go out half naked to the disco. I was always treated my whole life as a man, always with respect. I can’t clean, I can’t iron, I can’t cook. That is a woman’s work.

The remaining few are well respected for their sacrifice. One sums up her life on the border between genders saying:

I guess you could say I was partly a woman and partly a man. I liked my life as a man. I have no regrets.

It's a sacrifice perhaps not on par with donning a shoulder-padded 80s powersuit in the quest for gender equality, but not without its own message about the role of femininity and authority — that shunning sexuality brings power. Do we require female leaders to participate in a tacit subtle version of this custom still? Are femininity and authority mutually exclusive?


Join The Conversation
daijoubo daijoubo 8 years
dont mind my username because i find Japanese culture interesting and i created this name.what i was really going to say is that im Albanian and i know about this because my 80 year old aunt is one herself.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
hAHAHAHA raciccarone, your best comment yet. kudos.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
Yet if we don't stop Genital Warming, the Albanian virgins will continue to disappear. We need to cut nocturnal emissions by half or this magnificent breed will disappear by 2011. And then there will be no more Albanian virgins left.
CoconutPie CoconutPie 9 years
I went to Albania last year and it is truly the most interesting country I've been to (and I've been to +40 countries). I felt like I was on another planet. And the people were so nice. Great experience!
mondaymoos mondaymoos 9 years
Lol. Ew, UnDave.
em1282 em1282 9 years
This cracks me up: "Today women go out half naked to the disco. I was always treated my whole life as a man, always with respect. I can’t clean, I can’t iron, I can’t cook. That is a woman’s work." So if his little wifey gets made one day and pees in his food, the food the *she* cooked, does that still mean she's treating him with respect? ;) I am not even going to pretend I know anything about gender issues in Albania, but it's just more people freaking out about women taking control of their sexuality and how that relates to power.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Wouldn't it be more like you were unable to be screwed if your husband dies?
mondaymoos mondaymoos 9 years
Agreed, gigill. It's kind of a strange practice... but it's definitely more progressive than in other countries where you're just screwed if your husband dies.
gigill gigill 9 years
Men are allowed to have sex so I don't see this as "equal" for women who swore themselves to virginity.
JonBenet Ramsey Murder Case Information
Catholic Nun's Quote on Abortion
Funny #ThingsThatLeaveBritainReeling Tweets
Chelsea Manning Nightline Interview on Being Transgender
From Our Partners
Latest Love
All the Latest From Ryan Reynolds