The last remaining ‘sworn virgins’ of Albania: Women who have lived their whole lives as men


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For centuries in remote parts of Northern Albania, an extraordinary medieval tradition has been upheld allowing some women to live as men if they took a vow of celibacy. These women - known as sworn virgins - were allowed the privileges and freedoms of a man.

The Albanian sworn virgins (Albanian: burrnesha) are Albanian women who take a vow of chastity and wear male clothing in order to live as men in the patriarchal northern Albanian society. National Geographic's Taboo estimated that there are fewer than 102 sworn virgins in the world.

For the new series of ITV's On Assignment, which returns on Monday, Penny Marshall travelled to Albania to meet the handful of sworn virgins that remain. She found out that some took the vow out of choice and others to uphold the honour of their family when no male was able to take on that role.

 

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