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Aje Burrneshe!

Stories of women and sworn virgins

About the project


"Aje burrneshe storie di donne è di verging giurate" is a journey along north Albania and its boundaries with Montenegro and Kosovo searching for a new generation of "sworn virgins" or so local called "burrneshe".

"Burrneshe" are women who become men. Cutting their hair, dressing and working as men, smoking and drinking, these women have the possibility to cross the boundary between the female domain and the male world, taking part of it in an active way. That represents an acknowledged and accepted tradition: a woman can change her rule in that one of a man.

The phenomenon of sworn virgins already existed in the fifteenth century. Their history is closely tied to that of the Kanun of Leke Dukagjini, a code of customary laws transmitted orally for centuries and survived, among other things, a four centuries of Ottoman occupation and, later, at 50 years of communist dictatorship. 

The Kanun: "§ 1228. - VIII.'s Virgin (unmarried women who dress like men and even carry the weapons) can not be distinguished from the rest of the women, but may also take part in the meetings, but without the right to vote" .

 To Become a Burrneshe has a cost...

...has advantages.

Our aim is to TELL THIS STORY unique and universal (at the same time) WITH A DOCUMENTARY!

Today, most of the "burrneshe" are old. Experts estimate just 40 of them are still in life.

The aim is to understand which was in the past and which is now the contest in which a woman normally lives. For that, the documentary would to bacame also a journey in the modern albanian women's ordinary life, desires, unresolved issues.

What they win and what they lost becoming a "burrneshe"?

It's still that the way to be ? to be...what?


The pillar of this custom is the traditional extended family living under one roof (shtepia) and follows a patriarchal and patrilineal drive without possibility of exception. The importance of having sons arises from the fact that each family should have a householder (the zoti shtepise) who manages, buys and sells ownership and defend the other family members who are subject to his will. 

"Many of northern Albania's people still live by the strict laws of the Kanun whose 1,262 Articles, set out in twelve 'books' cover all aspects of mountain life: the regulation of economic and family organization, hospitality, brotherhood, the clan, boundaries, work, marriage, land and livestock, etc." (Antonia Young, in Women who become men, 2001)

According to the Kanun, the hereditary system follows a patrilineal trend from which women are rigidly excluded, as many other things.

Reasons for choosing this lifestyle (which should not be confused with the trans-sexuality or homosexuality as we know them in the Western world) could be different, but they all have the same root that is the need to perpetuate a system based on the "passage of goods" that involves only men.

Numerous studies have shown that this tradition has been maintained despite 50 years of communist dictatorship and still exists. Despite attempts by Enver Hoxha to abolish the practices related to the Kanun, it has been preserved. This happened mainly in areas distant from the control of the state apparatus, that is in the mountains, where in fact the phenomenon of "sworn virgins" continued to exist.


In 2003 I was doing my degree-thesis about albanian migrant workers in Rome, when I heard for the first time about this phenomena. I was strongly attracted by this story, so I started to study documents and evidencies about it, but only 7 years later, in 2010 I was able to go in Albania and triyng to meet a "burrneshe". 
From there I was several times in Albania and I met some of them, collect their stories. I also was informed about other cases of younger burrneshe. Most of them were born and lived in the mountainous areas of Albania, along the borders with Kosovo and Montenegro. 


Mark, 50 years old, she became sworn virgin when she was 7 years since last child of 6 sisters. After his "transformation" the mother gave birth to a son, but this did not change her decision. She left the parental home when she was still very young.  During the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, she worked as a laborer in a metallurgical factory  where she lost three fingers of the hand. Today she has a small food shop on the porch of the house and lives alone in a village in northern Albania. During my visit she showed me pictures of her trip to America by her brother, who comes to visit her every summer with his family. She said that the first time she tried to hide her true identity. I was impressed by the fact that she was a fervent Catholic and at the same time a person emancipated.
Gijn, 80 years old, became sworn virgin at the age of 22 years. She was born in a little mountain village and becomes s.v. because it breaks her engagement.  In the Kanun is written that if a woman breaks the engagement with her fiancé, she will not be able to marry as long as he do not die. Mark now has no regrets and lives by continuing to take care of the countryside and widowed women in her family.

The Kanun says "ß 98. - If in a family the only survivors are daughters, the closest cousin goes to live with them or takes them in home, and from that moment he sees himself as lord of all the assets. "

Paola has collected a large number of photos of Burrneshe, shooted during her trips in Albania. She works with an analog camera and most of them are self-printed photos. You can see her work and have more info about on the web site :

What are the funds for?

Your contribution will finance a new professional expedition in northern Albaniato look for new stories to tell. In particular you will help us to buy fly tickets, to rent all the equipment audio and video we need.

We also need a Society of Production that trust in our project and help us to realize it. 

If the contribution exceeds the 100% of our request, we could stay more time to research and shoot and... may be we could cover the costs to begin filming the real Documentary. And that would be great!


About the project owner

Paola Favoino is a south italian photographer. She graduated in sociology and specialized in migration studies in Rome.
From 2010 to 2012 she attended the Scuola Romana di Fotografia with courses of portraits in studio, analog print, digital postproduction and reportage. That about "albanian sworn virgins" is her first photographic project.


2015 "La macchina sognante" Contenitore online di scritture dal mondo. 

2014 "Erodoto 108" n.8 

2013 L’Huffington Post
2013 Fanzine#1 del collettivo 001, Roma
2012 Monu#17 Next Eleven issues
2012 Per Loop#17 


2015 Castello Svevo, Rocca Imperiale (Cosenza)

2015 Il Cantiere – per la Rassegna “Sementa – Tumbleweed”, Roma

2015 Ninotchka APS, via dei Pini 12, Roma
2015 Odin Teatret – all’interno del progetto teatrale “Burrnesha” di Valbona Xibri- Holstebro, Danimarca
2014 Galleria AOC F58 via Flaminia 58 Roma 
2014 The Darkroom Project Exhibition 4. Ex Convento dei Domenicani di Muro Leccese (LE)
2013 Libreria “Il Punto Einaudi”,  via Labicana 114, Roma
2013 Festival Kalidoscopio # 1: féminité en (de) construction à travers l’Europe, Nantes, Francia

2015 "Aje burrneshe! Storie di donne e di vergini giurate" (promo) selected for PERSO FILMFESTIVAL, Perugia

2015 "Aje burrneshe! Storie di donne e di vergini giurate" (promo) selected for UmbriaWorlfest2015, Foligno (PG)


Director and Videoediting, collaborates with Orange Media, cross-media company specialized in Production and Distribution of multiple platfoms works and products, format for TV, advertising, documentary, campaigns for digital comunication and advertising multidevice, starting from the construction of a web site until the digital advertising campaign.