burka avenger

With stories like mass poisonings of female Afghan students and the Taliban’s horrifying attempt on 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai’s life, the educational rights of women in the Middle East are very relevant in the public’s mind. Now, there is a televised face for this fight — a superhero who, while fictional, represents the incredibly important struggle for women’s ability to attend school: Burka Avenger.

In her day to day life, the superhero is a young woman named Jiya who works as a school teacher. When evil is near, however, she springs into action, utilizing her training in “Takht Kabaddi,” a “new kind of fighting style where books and pens are primarily used as weapons in conjunction with a variety of karate moves.” Awesome, right?

The show’s creator is Pakistani pop star Aaron Haroon Rashid, who conceived the action-comedy series as a means by which to promote female education and moral lessons for kids, like “not discriminating against others” and showing environmental responsibility. It will be the first cartoon ever produced in Pakistan, making the show even more revolutionary than it already is.

As for the (non-)issue of the hero’s garb, Rashid has this to say:

“It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burqa to hide her identity like other superheroes. 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.”

And for the record, Jiya/Burka Avenger’s typical wardrobe consists of normal streetwear, sans any head cover.

Utilizing educational materials, the Burka Avenger fights against villains such as corrupt politician Vadero Pajero and vile magician Baba Bandook, who’s intended to resemble a Taliban commander. In the show’s first episode, Pajero wants to close a school for girls in Jiya’s hometown in order to financially profit, while Bandook simply believes women have no place in schools. Naturally, Jiya fights against this using her books and pens, along with the help of her friends and brother.

Much of Europe and America tends to cling onto this gross misconception that (A) Islam and its followers are inherently misogynistic and (B) burkas, hijabs and the like signify oppression regardless of context. While we can attempt to humanize the Middle East and its inhabitants as much as possible, it is difficult to do so when there is rampant, awful Islamophobia all over the place on television, in the news and on the Internet. The Burka Avenger may not only empower young women in Pakistan, she may actually manage to change kids’ (and, hopefully, adults’) opinions on Muslims for the better — an effect documentaries, essays and arguments can only dream of.

To me, the importance of humanizing people in other countries actually doesn’t pertain too much to the religion itself. If you fundamentally disagree with another person’s religious beliefs, so be it; as somebody whose beliefs are all over the place, I can’t say I’ve never been a little frustrated when somebody’s conflicts with my own. However, connecting people to concepts and concepts to faces is so important because it reminds us that the struggle for things like women’s rights, like educational rights, like oppression, are problems for all of us to deal with.

Photo: Burka Avenger