I am a teacher in Kabul. Ali and Tahir are two of my student. They are seven years old. The two boys have so much in common. They are brilliant in Math. They don’t give into the pressure and take time to think and come up with their own answers. Of course, they also have their differences.
Ali is often late to school. He buys snacks from the canteen. He is dressed appropriately in each season and his mom helps with his studies at home. Once a year, his dad comes to the school to remind us that he pays a lot of money for his kids to come to this school, so the teachers are both teachers and parents for them. The father explains with indifference and a hint of pride that he doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with his kids because he is so busy.
Tahir’s mother drops him off every morning. She isn’t able to help with his homework; his aunt does. She regularly sends healthy snacks and takes good care of them. Tahir’s father lives out of the country, thus is similarly not able to spend a lot of time with him. When he visits the schools, he rarely mentions living away from his family, but he takes the time to discuss ways to improve his child’s education.
These two sweet boys, from well-to-do families, are bench mates. During a break, as I was sitting at the back of the class and preparing for my next class I heard them exchanging details about their parents’ abilities and qualifications. Their conversation was intriguing and it made me feel like kids look up to their parents as if they are people with superpowers. There was an excitement in their voices telling each other which languages each of their dads knew and what they did for a living.
Ali: My dad knows English, Persian, Pashtu and Urdu.
Tahir: My dad also knows so many languages.
Ali: How many languages? My dad knows like all the languages in the world.
Tahir: Yes, my dad knows all the languages too.
Ali: My dad is a doctor.
Tahir: My dad is a doctor too. How about your mom?
Ali: My mom also knows English, she helps me with my homework. She knows everything.
Tahir: hmmm. My mom doesn’t know English. She doesn’t help me with my homework. She doesn’t know anything.
And they laughed.
It struck me how for these children, and possibly for many more, knowing several languages, especially English, is a must, and having an official title is knowing everything. These are the superpowers that make people superheroes in their children’s lives. In my many years of teaching this has happened repeatedly, sometimes I overhear such a conversation and sometimes the student tell me so directly.
One time one of my students said: “I love my dad because he buys me stuff, but I don’t like my mom. She has nothing. My dad takes me shopping and spends 1000s of Afs on me.”
The children who equate titles, knowledge, and money with the worth of a parent have learned this from others. They were not born with this mentality. Elders who know that women are disproportionately prevented from accessing resources, including knowledge, can correct these mentalities from an early age by pointing out the contributions of mothers in the family. If a seven-year-old child equates worth with money or job titles, how will he view his future wife who may choose or be forced into being a housewife? How likely is he to respect her and treat her with dignity if he believes “she knows nothing” or “she has nothing”?
After coming across such conversations, I take the time to speak with my students. I reflect on their daily activities from the time they wake up to when they go back to bed. If they say I have breakfast, I ask them with who and who makes it, do you help clear the table and do the dishes, who does the dishes. I help them analyze what goes on daily in their lives hoping they can see how much the women in the family contribute to their wellbeing and to the family’s economy. More importantly, children need to know that every member of their family and the society deserves dignity and respect, not only the wealthy, the multi-lingual, or the doctors. The ways in which moms contribute to the family, from preparing meals to keeping them healthy and safe, also takes a lot of skill and should be acknowledged, valued, and respected. House chores are work. Helping children do their homework is work. Simply because they are done by women and unpaid, it doesn’t mean they are not valuable.
Children learn to devalue the contribution of women in a household or society at a young age. I hope to change that one classroom at a time and hope that other people also take time to talk to the children in the family or in their lives about the value of the contribution of each of us.
Feature Image by Zahra Khodadi. Follow her on Instagram.
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