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Pakistan’s First Female Superhero Kicks Butt Wearing a Burka, and That’s Okay

Pakistan’s First Female Superhero Kicks Butt Wearing a Burka, and That’s Okay

Wonder Woman had better scoot over. There’s a new kick-ass superheroine on the block. It’s – dun dun DUN – the Burka Avenger!

Burka Avenger is Pakistan’s first animated female superhero. Created and largely financed by Pakistani pop star Aaron Haroon Rashid (known as Haroon), a goal of the show is to advocate for girls’ education in an area that still sees violent hostility to that basic right.

From the Associated Press:

The Urdu language show is the brainchild of one of Pakistan’s biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon Rashid known to many as simply Haroon who conceived of it as a way to emphasize the importance of girls’ education and teach children other lessons, such as protecting the environment and not discriminating against others. This last point is critical in a country where Islamist militants wage repeated attacks on religious minorities.

“Each one of our episodes is centered around a moral, which sends out strong social messages to kids,” Rashid told The Associated Press in his first interview about the show. “But it is cloaked in pure entertainment, laughter, action and adventure.”

Our protagonist is Jiya, a mild-mannered teacher at an all-girls school. She protects the school against corrupt politicians and an anti-women’s education magician. At night, she slips into her burka – a sleek, ninja-inspired version, of course – and continues to battle her enemies using school supplies, like pencils and books.

It’s interesting that Jiya dons a burka as her superhero outfit. When she’s not in uniform, she doesn’t even wear a head scarf. And since the Taliban forced women to wear the burka, it’s not really seen, in the West at least, as a symbol of empowerment. But according to the Haroon, the burka gives the show a more local feel:

“It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes,” said Rashid. “Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn’t have worked in Pakistan.”

Ha. Fair enough. I imagine skin-tight costumes wouldn’t go over too well with religious conservatives.

As a westerner, I think the choice of the burka can teach other lessons. In the west, we tend to think of women who choose to be modest to have somehow internalized her oppression. Showing skin somehow equals liberation. If a woman is forced to wear a burka, there is obviously a problem. But shaming her and telling her that she’s oppressed when that is what she chooses to wear? That’s not OK, either. I like that Jiya/Burka Avenger is powerful in her burka and her civies. It sends a powerful message. Regardless of how you choose to express yourself, you have value and power. That’s a lesson we could all use.

You can check out the English language trailer below. The show is scheduled to air on Geo TV in August.

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Photo Credit: YouTube / Burka Avenger

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133 comments

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5:31PM PDT on Aug 11, 2013

Cool.

8:40AM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

The word humility signifies lowliness or submissiveness an it is derived from the Latin humilitas or, as St. Thomas says, from humus.
The burka is supposed to display humility.....and the men are not required to show humility. .

10:36PM PDT on Aug 7, 2013

okay, thanks.

11:29AM PDT on Aug 7, 2013

Oopps, I meant waste of time, not waste of them.

11:27AM PDT on Aug 7, 2013

Will R.- It seems you look at women, even in cartoon form, as a form of entertainment in themselves. As such you completely miss the story, the symbolism, and the message. For you watching any woman as a superhero is a complete waste of them, as the important part of the story is completely over your head.

11:21AM PDT on Aug 7, 2013

Isabelle F.- Subversive and ambiguous? In an oppressive society the subversives are often the heroes. I'm not sure what you think is ambiguous about it. I think it is very clear what this heroine wants, in both her identities, as teacher and superhero. To educate all children, including girls. That is not ambiguous at all.

11:16AM PDT on Aug 7, 2013

Rehana V.- In some places, it is compulsory. And even making someone where a headscarf is taking away their freedom not to do so. I don't believe it is anyone's intention to tell women they cannot where something if they actually want to, but it should not be forced on them. There is no perfect society anywhere in the world, but we do see some of the most oppressive as we look at the world around us and not just at our own little corner, and yes we do support those who fight for their own freedom, and oppose oppression. There are worse problems than the burka, but the burka is only the visible tip of the iceberg. It hides more than a woman's body.

10:25AM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

seems likely to appeal: popular music, a stylish hero working for justice for all

8:33AM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

Thanks.

8:22AM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

SUCCESS ;O)

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