The Summer Reading Program has been designed as an opportunity for incoming students to:

                • participate in a shared intellectual conversation with the IWU community;
                • express ideas about a common text that many IWU students, faculty, staff, and alumni are reading;
                • and respond respectfully to ideas others bring to the discussion. 

In response to IWU's 2016-2017 intellectual theme of Women's Power, Women's Justice, the Advising and Summer Reading Committee, in consultation with the University's Speakers Committee, selected The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg for the 2016 Summer Reading Program.

Students are expected to purchase and read this selection over the summer of 2016, as well as complete the guided reading questions.  Written responses should be brought to the small group discussions during Turning Titan: New Student Orientation on Wednesday, August 24, 2016.

Jenny Nordberg will be the speaker for President's Convocation on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 11 a.m.

About the book

In Afghanistan, where society is ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as a failure.

A bacha posh (literally “dressed up like a boy” in Dari) is a third kind of child – a girl who will be raised as a boy and presented as a son to the world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke this story for The New York Times , constructs a dramatic account of Afghan women and girls clandestinely living on the other side of the gender divide that grants half its population almost no rights and little freedom.

Set against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war, The Underground Girls of Kabul follows Afghan girls who live disguised as boys through childhood and puberty, only to be expected by adult age to transform into subordinate wives and mothers. But the battle of nature versus nurture lingers, and some bacha posh will refuse to rescind their male prerogatives in what the UN calls the world’s most dangerous country to be a woman.

The book is anchored by vivid female characters who bring this ancient phenomenon to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian whose youngest daughter is chosen to pose as her only son; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and resists her parents’ attempts to turn her into a woman; Shukria, who was forced to marry and have three children after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an Afghan special forces soldier, still in disguise as an adult man.

Offering a new and original story about Afghanistan and its women, The Underground Girls of Kabul investigates the hidden practice of bacha posh that has affected generations, while examining its parallels to our own history. The act of reaching for more freedom by impersonating a man is one that can be recognized by women everywhere.

(Description retrieved from


About the author

nordbergphotoJenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. She is also the founder and editor of  

In 2010, she broke the story of “bacha posh” — how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg’s original research in the piece was used for follow-up stories around the world, as well as opinion pieces and fictional tales.

Today, The Underground Girls of Kabul is the only original non-fiction work on the practice of bacha posh, going deep into issues of gender and culture in Afghanistan. Jenny Nordberg is to date the only researcher in the world who has explored the practice of bacha posh in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

Together with The Times’ investigative unit, Nordberg previously worked on projects such as an examination of the American freight railroad system; a series that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and U.S. efforts at exporting democracy to Haiti.

She has also produced and written several documentaries for American television, about Iraqi refugees, Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation and the impact of the global financial crisis in Europe.

In Sweden, Nordberg was a member of the first investigative team at Swedish Broadcasting’s national radio division, where she supervised projects on terrorism and politics. Nordberg has won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and Guldspaden; Sweden’s premier investigative journalism award.

Jenny Nordberg holds a B.A. in Law and Journalism from Stockholm University, and an M.A. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

(Biography retrieved from