The Burrneshas

The Men-Women of Albania

The Burrneshas are a fascinating group of women in northern Albania who have chosen to live like men. As early as the 19th century, they were documented by travelers who recounted their encounters with these “man-women”. Through this historically rooted role reversal, they gain the rights and privileges of men in a strictly patriarchal society and enjoy a respectful special status.

However, this step towards freedom is not without its costs – Burrneshas live celibate lives, without the possibility of marriage and starting families. Traditionally, they swear a vow of chastity before the village elders, which is binding and lifelong. This decision not to marry is often dictated not only by personal convictions but also by external circumstances such as the lack of male heirs in the family.

The harshness of their lives is palpable in their words and gestures. They have recognized early on that the traditional female role, which entails many restrictions and few rights, is not meant for them. As Burrneshas, they can defy these restrictions and lead self-determined lives. They not only dress like men but also emphasize their toughness and masculinity to underscore their decision.

Smoking, voting, expressing their opinions, or pursuing any profession – these are rights that are not usually afforded to the female part of society in northern Albania. Yet the Burrneshas defy these norms and show the world that they are strong enough to choose their own identity and way of life, regardless of societal conventions and expectations.

Bedri, North Albania, 2017
Apartments, North Albania, 2017
Gyistine and his mother, North Albania, 2017
Gyistine, North Albania, 2017
Lindita, North Albania, 2017
Bedri with her Taxi, North Albania, 2017
Bedri, North Albania, 2017
North Albania, 2017
Hajdar infant of his house, North Albania, 2017
Diana, North Albania, 2017
Lindita, North Albania, 2017
Gystine im Garten, North Albania, 2017
Junger Hajdar, North Albania, 2017
Hajdar In traditional attire, North Albania, 2017
Rohbau, North Albania, 2017