The Sworn Virgins of Albania


Nowadays, the meaning of gender is increasingly complex, and the debate around it more heated than ever. Personally (and this goes for all of us at UTP), I’ve never segregated or judged people based on gender or other characteristics out of their control. The only things that should matter are their character and how they carry themselves as a human being.

While equality is today’s norm, we all know this wasn’t always the case. Especially in the old days when there was far less freedom of choice. In those deeply patriarchal times, an interesting tradition appeared in one of Europe’s least explored and most authentic regions.

The Sworn Virgins

In the pockets of northern Albania, the Sworn Virgins are a truly fascinating, if not progressive, insight into the culture of this rural region. The old practice was born from families that were robbed of their male patriarchs due to illness or blood feuds. In their place, a female member of the family would volunteer (or be forced to) to become a Sworn Virgin. This would mean they would inherit all the rights of a man in exchange for an oath to remain a virgin throughout the rest of their years. It was often seen as an honour as the sacrifice was justified for protecting their families. There were also cases where women would take this oath to avoid arranged marriages or even just to live a better life as men.

Today, there are around twenty Sworn Virgins still living in Northern Albania. If you’re interested to read more then this piece in the Guardian gives a captivating insight.

This is a beautiful trailer made by the amazing Rachel Morrison for the documentary He/She/He. It is about the Sworn Virgins of Albania. A group of women who live socially as men in northern Albania and parts of Kosovo. It is a complex tradition that is dying out and only a few Sworn Virgins are left. The doc is being produced by Jill Peters.

Untravelled Paths offers experiences to the beautiful, remote mountainous region of Northern Albania. On special request, we can even organise for you to meet and chat with one of these incredible women for a unique insight into the fascinating lives they have lived. 

Written by James Chisnall, Untravelled Paths

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