DEAR photography

Pepa Hristova
Qamile 1, Sworn Virgins

QAMILE (86) was the youngest of nine girls and was already spending her time with the men of the village at the age of nine. From that moment on, she grew up as a son. As the only man in the family, she inherited her childhood home after her parents died. She was known as “Grandpa Qamile,” but over the years, the woman inside her resurfaced. Her movements became more graceful, her features softer. Qamile died in 2011.

Northern Albania is still home today to so-called „Sworn Virgins“ – the last men-women in Europe. A collection of laws from the Middle Ages, passed down over the centuries by word of mouth, allows families who have lost their patriarch – not seldom through blood feuds – to select a woman as head of the household. But only under the condition that she make an irrevocable vow to remain a virgin for the rest of her life. These sworn virgins are highly respected by their families and attain the status of men. They do men’s work and dress and behave like men, but are regarded as male in a social rather than a sexual sense. The sworn virgins fill their roles so perfectly that, over time, they are no longer regarded as women outside their own family. Over the years, the woman in them is lost. (From the series: Sworn Virgins / Albania 2008-2010)

Qamile 1, Sworn Virgins
Archival Pigment Print
123 × 90 cm
wooden frame, matt anthrazit, museum glass