Separating gold from silver: a gender perspective

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By Syed Afiat Shah It was a bloomy, cool and pleasant summer day, almost twenty five years back. I reached my school as usual.  On that day boys and girls were being separated from co-education system. As soon as we gathered for the assembly, one of my male teachers uttered with a smile on his face, “Today we are separating gold from silver!” He, through his metaphorical words, meant to distinguish boys from girls as gold which is commonly given higher status than silver. Since then I had never reflected on the metaphor used by the teacher. Today at the age of thirty, a discussion on gender identity in my class at university created curiosity in me to reflect on how males and females are categorized as gold and silver in society. Hence, I reflect on the experiences of my own identity construction and the discriminatory socially constructed status of male and female in my context, using “Separating gold from silver” as a metaphor which I heard from my teacher. Whenever I reflect on how my identity was constructed, it reminds me of separating gold from silver (metaphorically used for distinguishing boys from girls) in my school. In fact, that event made me aware of my maleness. The words of the teacher, “today we are separating gold from silver” not only informed me that I was a male but also his metaphor induced in my mind that being a male I was superior to girls. However, today I question myself “why was gold attributed to male and silver to female but not vice versa?” No doubt, my teacher’s metaphor, on the one hand, contributed to the construction of my identity but on the other hand it created a division between the two extraordinary elements (male and female) of gender. It created a sense of discrimination in my mind for females.  Since then onwards I have been acting in a superior way with my sisters in my family, female staff and students in school, female relatives in society and so on. Here I once again question myself, “why have I been suffering from superiority complex with regard to my gender identity? “How did I get this sense of supremacy?” Why no one questioned my gendered status? This was because of the higher status of males in the whole society where males are given higher status over females. Unfortunately, this concept is still prevalent in the whole society. Evidence regarding the discriminatory socially constructed identity of male and female indicates that the concept of gold and silver still exists among the common people in my context.  Males are distinguished from females everywhere in society such as families, schools, social gatherings and so on.  I personally observed the practical implementation of separating gold from silver in my family. My father gave much importance and value to my brother than my sister at the time of admission in school. He admitted my brother in an English medium school while the sister in a government Urdu medium school where he had to pay nothing. When my mother asked him to admit her in the same school where my brother was studying, he remarked, “The daughter will not be mine in future; she will be at someone else’s home.”   It reveals how boys are preferred to girls as gold to silver whereas both of them are the offspring of same parents. Not only this but also the negligence of my mother’s concern about her daughter indicates that she was as valueless as a silver in front of her husband. Today when I reflect on my father’s gender bias decision, I wonder and ask myself, “why did he create gender disparity between his own children?  Why did he not listen to my mother? Does the Holy Quran allow this? Did the Holy prophet say it?” No, not at all. The Holy Prophet has emphasized, in the light of Quran, to give equal importance to both male and female in every walk of life. Then why is this inequality? These are nothing but socially constructed practices which have influenced the minds of the common people. Similarly, daughters in most families are too restricted to even choose their life partners while sons are free to choose any one they like to marry. Such practices show how females’ lives are shaped by men in patriarchal societies. In addition, regardless of the less valued status of females in families, even in schools females seem to be less valued. I have experienced and observed it personally in a school in my village where I worked for almost four years. Today if I remember the practices in school, I realize that separating gold from silver was exactly being practiced over there. While boys and girls were equally sharing the classrooms, girls were exclusively responsible for cleaning them on general cleanliness day. Boys used to enjoy freedom on that day and made as much fun as they could while girls were surrounded by dust with mops and brooms in their hands. Boys were not coming near the classes for the fear that their clothes would get dust on them. None of us, the teachers, even thought about the clothes of girls. Having learnt from these worth reflecting experiences, I feel that there is a dire need to question but not reinforce the gender disparities in our schools. Therefore, I also invite my fellow teachers to revisit their thoughts and play their role in educating the children in a way that they are able to understand their status as equal member of the society. Syed Afiat Shah, a resident of Ghizer, Gilgit-Baltistan, is a student of MEd at the Aga Khan University-Institute for Educational Development, Karachi.  ]]>

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