Note: This was cross-posted with permission from Historicity (Was Already Taken).
The Kanuni i Leke Dukagjinit (The Code of Lekë Dukagjini) is an oral law code which ruled the lives of those residing in the Northern Albanian area for at least five centuries. It was first codified in the 15th century by the Albanian Prince Lekë Dukagjini, but it was not written down until the 19th century. For this reason, scholars are unsure as to its origins.
The Kanun is divided into 12-14 sections (depending on which version you are looking at) dealing with church, family, marriage, house, livestock, property, work, spoken word, honor, damages, criminal law, judicial law, and exemptions and exceptions. In short, it governed every aspect of daily life.
Of women, the Kanun says: “A woman is a sack made to endure.” Under the Kanun, women are the property of their fathers, and later of their husbands and their husbands’ family. There were very few jobs women could hold, and many establishments they were not allowed to enter.
However, what is fascinating about the Kanun is that it provides a way for women to regain control over their lives; it is a loophole, of sorts. In fact, you could even call it empowering if you are speaking from a pre-feminist standpoint.
The loophole was that women had the ability to become a man in the eyes of both family and society. The women who became men were, and still are, known as sworn virgins. Upon taking a vow set forth in the Kanun, a woman would dress like a man, act like a man, work like a man, and command the respect accorded to a man; the only thing she was not allowed to do was to engage in sexual activity.
Sworn virgin Shkurtan Hasanpapaj worked for many years as a high ranking officer for the Communist Party. She supervised many men, and none questioned her authority as a man even as the government body they worked for strove to stamp out adherence to the Kanun.
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