Portraits of Albanian Women Who Have Lived Their Lives As Men


For her project Sworn Virgins of Albania, photographer Jill Peters visited to the mountain villages of northern Albania to capture portraits of “burneshas,” or females who have lived their lives as men for reasons related to their culture and society.

Many of the women assumed their male identities from an early age as a way to avoid the old codes that governed the tribal clans, which stated that women were the property of their husbands. Peters explains,

The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages. As an alternative, becoming a Sworn Virgin, or ‘burnesha” elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population. In order to manifest the transition such a woman cut her hair, donned male clothing and sometimes even changed her name. Male gestures and swaggers were practiced until they became second nature. Most importantly of all, she took a vow of celibacy to remain chaste for life. She became a “he”. This practice continues today but as modernization inches toward the small villages nestled in the Alps, this archaic tradition is increasingly seen as obsolete. Only a few aging Sworn Virgins remain.

Thus, Peters wanted to capture this fading tradition before it disappeared forever. She also writes that she learned a great deal from her interactions with her subjects and their communities:

I learned that the Burrnesha are well respected within their communities. They possess an indescribable amount of strength and pride, and value their family honor above all else. Their absolute transition is wholly accepted, posited and taken without question by the people among whom they live. But most surprising, is they have very few regrets for the great deal they have sacrificed.









Wikipedia has an entire article regarding Albanian sworn virgins, in case you’d like to learn more about this practice.

Sworn Virgins of Albania by Jill Peters (via Feature Shoot)

Image credits: Photographs by Jill Peters and used with permission

  • omjucavgt


  • Really?

    To each his own. Only he, who carries the bag, knows what’s in it.

  • marcio campos


  • marcio campos


  • Hamza Hassnain


  • Guadalupe Zamora Becerra

    Gracias por la información

  • Dan

    Sarcasm is a tool for weak minded individuals.

  • nia

    I’m also not ‘comfortable with acknowledging’ them as alps either. The mountain range known as The Alps is in central europe. The mountains of albania are simply geopraphically distinct from The Alps.
    Or is ‘alps’ becoming a word for ‘mountains’?
    The photos are beautiful.

  • Kevin Kinh

    Nice T shirt!

  • VVV

    Alps? Something is seriously wrong here

  • AMonkeyInMyPocket

    If you don’t think academics are out of touch, you clearly haven’t been to a university recently. Also, if upvotes are any indication, far more people are listening to Dana than you.

  • lidocaineus

    Academics may or may not be in touch with reality, but generalizing an entire group is ignorant, not to mention there’s no actual statement that the subject of her ire IS an academic. You’re also not helping your argument by putting any kind of stock in Disqus votes (and if you don’t know why, there’s no helping your logical deduction skills).

  • guest

    Maybe they’ve given up their sexuality, but when I think about it, how much control over their sexuality do most women have (had, since this is a disappearing phenomena) in a heavily male-dominated culture? I’m thinking, some of them didn’t give up much in that department. Especially those unfortunate enough to wind up with a gay husband, which you KNOW happens in especially repressive societies with no where for gay men to live freely. But for these women, freedom from subservience, abuse and marital rape must have been so wonderful. For some of them I’m sure it was a dream come true. Makes me think more highly of their culture that they allowed it. Of course, responsible adults far less prone to violence and rape were a benefit to everyone, but it’s still a surprise that their culture included respect for some women.

    I’m not sure why the world hates women. I just wish we’d have the good sense god gave a doorknob to hate them back. Or at least admit to OURSELVES that we’re hated.

    I guess that sounds radical. Because treating women like objects who don’t deserve the same rights as men is…normal. In this world.

  • GravityWave

    Please explain your “atheist” comment. Until you do I will assume you are saying that atheists have the brains and wills to escape the pedagogy that many people accept as “culture” and truth and that leads them to live meaningless and slavish lives to the idiocy uneducated people fall into sans any scientific corrections.

  • guest

    I notice my somewhat snarly comment from earlier today is gone now. I expressed some man hate. But I wasn’t vulgar or rude to anyone, while some other duly registered commentators are actually ridiculing. So I’ll leave it up to you to and your managed audience.

    I’m glad you think worldwide hatred of women is over the top as a valid part of the discussion. And I wish I agreed. But this beautiful story and the strong women in it don’t change my mind at all.

  • Alice Barrus

    I don’t believe the person doing the study was trying to ‘prove’ anything. She was recording data for others to analyze

  • Neil Cameron

    Neither is New Zealand close, yet the Alps there are totally covered with a fresh dusting of snow from last night.
    Is there a reason why an Alp shouldn’t be where you wouldn’t expect to find one?

  • aaa

    “a theist” not “an atheist”

  • Lex

    which is why it’s so common among intellectuals and so often completely baffles rednecks, gangstas and other similarly intelligent groups.

  • libertarian-teabilly

    Nothing new, except the method. Everywhere, every time period in history, some women allow themselves to be exploited, some fly their own flag. Brings to bear one of the major contributors to the Exploitation of women; The Church.

  • libertarian-teabilly

    I doubt that they have ‘given up’ anything. To give up something has to include the premise that something is desired.

  • Adrian!-it(Official)


  • Adrian!-it(Official)


  • D

    Consider some of these questions. Is it biological-femaleness that is hated or feminine gender, and is it body and/or gender to be found in different cultures with different languages, metaphysical beliefs, histories? It’s not to deny that there is near universal patriarchy, but it is to say that it does not take the same power everywhere, and that it’s a strong matter of gender policing (more accurately) that is detrimental for women and men (in different ways), starting from the fact that you can be only woman or man (the definitions of which change with time and culture). Our bodies have limits, but so does our language/culture, and if you think that some liberal-actor (hating anyone for strictly class gains is the universal standard for judging, well that’s another issue.

    In short, it’s not that one has over thought things. It’s that there’s more to consider than the typical story, even if that typical story isn’t totally inaccurate.

  • GravityWave

    This reply is unintelligible.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    I hope it dies out why cant they be themselves! Its sad they cant be woman and still have the same rights as there male counterparts

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    but they were forced into it so how was it meant to be? Its like saying guys need to be girls to get the benefits of being female

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    which is so sad

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    Yep and Its sad woman cant be man I wonder what they do to gay man?

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    then how is it beatiful?

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    but why dont they be the change? But still we know or they know and its that male code they had to abide by so they lost part of themself just like a guy becoming a woman. why change your identity for the sake of there culture?

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    Well I hope it dies and the new generation takes over and do better then the old generation! its sad when they have to give up being themselves

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    exactly both male and female are equal and we continue to say man are strong woman are weak man have to do heavy lifting woman can only carry babies and be at home

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    why dont they just move? I mean dang that culture is hurting there own people. Its like China when they say they dont want chinese girls now there is more boys and guess what they marry there second cousins

  • guest

    We can all hope.

  • Guest

    Que comentário infeliz.Francamente.

  • Vic

    what a way to go

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    yeah so many people talented and afraid they will either be called a sissy or called not a woman

  • YmainaStaial

    I love you the sake of what you are an

    d not of what you do

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    well I dont understand why nuns or priests couldnt marry! they have sexual feelings and how is natural not to have sex or the desire for sex!

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    But dont you think that should change? Since no one should be killed over being a man either.

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  • Alban

    Hahahaha, made my day

  • Dee

    Actually, it is not about sexual identity. They take over an inheritance, with all the burdens and toils, and in their culture, only a man can do that. It is mainly about hard work and responsibility.

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