The natives inhabiting obscure villages in the Albanian Alps have, for the longest time, been governed by a set of codes and laws called Kanun, which dictates that families must be patrilineal and patrilocal. Under these laws, women are to be treated like the family's property and cannot enjoy basic rights like possessing their own land, or opting for certain occupations.
In northern Albania, the only way a woman can have the rights of a man is to take an oath of celibacy and become a sworn virgin.
Under the very set of the Kanun laws, however, women can choose to set themselves free from the clutches of patriarchy, at a certain cost, of course. A woman can choose to become a sworn virgin by swearing an irrevocable oath, in front of 12 village or tribal elders, to practice celibacy.
A woman can choose to become a sworn virgin at any age, and only then is she allowed the same rights as a man.
Burneshas are Albanian women who have lived their lives as men, donning their clothes and their mannerisms to avoid the old codes that governed the tribal clans. She then lives as a man, uses a male name and is allowed to carry a gun, smoke, drink alcohol, take on male work, and also act as the head of a household.
Along with the burdens of being a man, come the liberties, and that is what drove most women in the past to opt for this lifestyle.
Many women chose to become sworn virgins simply because it afforded them much more freedom than would otherwise have been available in a patrilineal culture, in which women were secluded, sex-segregated, required to be virgins before marriage and faithful afterwards, betrothed as children and married by sale without their consent.