In Albania, some women choose, or are chosen, to head their households and that means life as a man and a lasting celibacy vow.

Kanun, traditional Albanian law that began as word-of-mouth guidance, permits families without a patriarch to replace the male head of the household with a female in exchange for her promised chastity. These sworn virgins are called "burneshas."

Some women make their decision as young as seven years old in situations where they must care for ailing parents. Still others become burneshas after short-lived marriages to protect their children from being labeled bastards. The women assume stereotypically male jobs like ore miners or automobile mechanics and overtly appear masculine, often fooling even CNN's photographer, Pepa Hirstova.

"These women are more masculine than men because they perform the role so perfectly," she said. "To think or talk about women's issues or love would dishonor them."


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