In Afghanistan, I learn, it's common practice for girls to be disguised as boys - because boys are more prestigious.
Some girls spend their entire childhood pretending to be boys. Families without sons are often taunted and looked down on, regarded as failures. So desperate parents resort to trickery rather than admitting they only have daughters.
They justify their decision by saying they're just following the centuries-old tradition of Bacha Posh - disguising girls as boys - and avoiding being treated as social pariahs.
They also say that as "boys", their daughters will get experiences and opportunities that girls wouldn't get, thus giving them a better start in life.
But the fact is that they're colluding in a deeply sexist culture that sees boys as superior and girls as second-class citizens denied the same privileges. The collusion stifles any debate on increased freedom for girls and the ending of gender roles.
Criticis of Bacha Posh also point to the damaging effect on girls who feel they've missed essential childhood memories as well as losing their identity. After years denying who they really are, reverting to their true self can seem odd and unnatural.
Social traditions like these can be very powerful forces, maintained so insistently by so many people that they're almost impossible to resist. But someone has to be courageous enough to stand up and say that the deliberate repression of female identity is inhuman and barbaric.
Girls are not merely non-boys. Nor are they pretend-boys. They're fine just as they are - girls.
Pic: Mehrnoush the girl has become Mehran the boy