‘Sworn Virgins’ of Albania are from an era when it was necessary for a women to ‘become a men.’ To understand this custom, it is necessary to investigate the Kanun, a code of Law that goes back five centuries.
The Kanun states that women are considered to be the property of their husbands. The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive right of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages. If a husband died, or was killed in a blood feud, the widow could not inherit his property or become the head of the household. If the woman had no sons, then a male relative (and his family) would move in, and take over her property. By becoming ‘a man’ in a sworn ceremony, a widow or her sister could become the patriarch of the family. The woman, now a man, would stop another male from taking the farm or property. The vow invoked chastity and could not be undone.
Another incentive to ‘ becoming a man,’ was that the ‘sworn virgin’ could take a job to bring in money to a poverty stricken family. Those women learned to adopt a male swagger and seek the company of men. Albania is mostly a Muslim country. The ‘Sworn Virgin’ has been practised for centuries by Muslims and Christians. It is written that ‘becoming a man’ was a social necessity and not a sexual choice. However, since homosexuality is taboo in Albania, there must have been instances when a lesbian was quite happy to escape marriage.
It should be added, that Albania is striving to become a modern European country. For many years, it followed a Stalinist Communist system of government, which kept it behind Europe. Today, the ‘Sworn Virgin’ custom is slowly dying out.