The Third Gender

3 Mar

Yesterday BBC foreign news correspondent Jill Mc Givering visited Westminster to talk about reporting from the Pakistan floods, being embedded in an Afghan prison and the “third gender”.

She states that this mysterious term “third gender” refers to Western women through Afghan eyes; there are men, women and “foreign women”.

Mc Givering has come face to face with obscene gender inequality whilst in Afghanistan. She recalls the prison where she was embedded:

“One woman was supposed to marry a man and ‘disappeared’ with another man. She was sentenced to seven years in jail.

“Another woman was accused of murdering her husband. She denies it, but has been given life imprisonment. It would be different if her father could afford to pay for her to come out”.

This is a country where the judicial system is incredibly warped; it is a system run by men and in favour of men. Women aren’t entitled to a defence lawyer, and all prosecutors are men.


As a female, Mc Givering found it difficult to gain access on many occasions. To the Afghans, she is seen to be in an uncomfortable limbo between men and women. She once filmed at an Afghan wedding, where the men and women are kept separated.

She recalls how the men were more than willing to speak to her and allow her and her crew to join their celebration. They spoke of how they thought their country would change.

Yet, when she asked to speak to the women, they looked at her as though she were absurd. ”Only women can go in the women’s compound!”

She was accepted amongst the men, yet at the same time is a woman.

It does make me think that it seems so much more of a struggle to report from countries like Afghanistan as a Western woman. Yet, Mc Givering had access to the women who she could associate with and create a bond with.

The women in the prison were so not used to being around men, that it was even a problem when having a male translator in the room.

Yet, once they trusted Mc Givering, some felt able to lift their burka’s and tell their stories. For this reason, we are at an advantage as female journalists; we are able to see a side to Afghanistan that we are rarely shown, through the eyes of women.


One Response to “The Third Gender”

  1. mrtotes March 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    So sad: lets hope social development moves on quickly in Afghan.

    That said even we live in a country where some still are unable to see women as equal beings (personally I think they’re better than men!). I can’t imagine what the wives of these men feel like: – Men who so strongly believe women and homosexuals cannot be treated the same, they declare it in public. 😦

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