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.
Photo Credit: YouTube / Burka Avenger