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Wesleyan Speaker Uncovers Gender Segregation In Afghanistan

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An award-winning journalist who uncovered a gender-segregated practice in Afghanistan will speak at the Illinois Wesleyan University President's Convocation tomorrow, Sep. 14.

Jenny Nordberg first reported on the bocha posh in a series of articles in the New York Times in 2010. Her series of Times articles led up to her book The Underground Girls of Kabul, which was the subject of IWU's summer reading program.

It grew out of extensive research and reporting inside a war zone. The conservative, male-dominated culture of Afghanistan, gave rise to the practice, where families raise their female-born children as boys.

Nordberg tells GLT's Willis Kern she first learned of the practice when she met Azita Rafat, a female member of parliament at her home.

"I was speaking with her twin daughters when one of them said, 'you know our brother is really our sister.' I didn't know what to think. I thought at first they were just practicing their English on me, when later on in another interview, another parent confirmed it," Nordberg said.

She said the practice cuts across class, level of education, income, geography and ethnicity. A very prominent family and an utterly poor family in a remote province, if they lack a son, this is something they will sometimes resort to," she added.

Nordberg said a fascinating part of the cultural practice is when the child reaches puberty.

"That's about the time the family will switch the child back to being a girl. Some of them become stronger women because of the practice, while others struggle with it and it stays with them the rest of their lives," she added. 

Nordberg delivers the annual President's Convocation address at 11 AM tomorrow Sep. 14 at Presser Hall in IWU's Westbrook Auditorium.

Willis is a Bloomington, IL, native. During his senior year at Bloomington High School, he finished third in the "Radio Speaking" division of the state speech contest, the only year he competed.