Albania – The Women Who Live as Men

Shkurtan Malaj, Sworn Virgin

Shkurtan Malaj, Sworn Virgin

As modern society sweeps in, old ways are dying out, and the tradition of these “man-women” may soon be a thing of the past.

In northern Albania, an old tradition is slowly dying out, that of “Sworn Virgins”. These are women who chose to live as men, under an oath of lifelong celibacy, taking on both the freedoms and responsibilities of manhood in a strongly patriarchal society.

Albania: The Women Who Live as Men

It’s an unusual tradition in Albania, and today it’s dying out: the tradition of the sworn virgin. They are women who choose to live as men to escape the restrictions imposed on women in their patriarchal society.
They call themselves burrnesha, and have sworn a vow of chastity. Most of them made the decision during puberty to switch gender roles and live as men, though physically they remain female. The tradition of the “man-woman” has its origins in an ancient code of honor common in Albania whereby families without a male successor could choose a girl to fill the role of patriarch instead. -European Journal


Learn more:
Sworn Virgins – National Geographic

Sworn Virgins – Albania – Journeyman Pictures



About JJ Vincent

JJ Vincent is a 40-something guy who lives in north Alabama with his two partners and their three dogs, five cats, and a hamster. He's a graphic designer, copyeditor, and polycrafter who is equally fond of knitting and NASCAR and gleefully surrounds himself with pink sparkly things.


  1. Hi jjVincent
    As long as this was a free choice , I think it is a pity the tradition dies out.

    • JJ Vincent says:

      Iben, I would love to meet some of these Sworn Virgins. I do wonder how many make/made the choice because they felt they had to out of familial responsibility or because their other options were much poorer in comparison, rather than a genuine desire to live that way.

  2. And what about monks and nuns?? Remember these thousands-years-old canons among these people in Albania are laws based on human will to follow these relative right conducts, and no form of divine punishement was ever involved through the milleniums, which shows a respectable level of consciusness. Albanian traditional unwritten canonical (interesting for who is into cultures and articles like this) : Wikipedia’s article is a good start. Greets from an albanian.

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