Have you heard of a new superheroine called “Burka Avenger”? Burka Avenger is a new animated series for kids in Pakistan. Burka Avenger fights corrupt politicians and Taliban-look-a-like thugs who try to shut down a girl’s school in a village. She is fully trained in martial arts and uses pens and books to fight the bad guys. During the day, her alter-ego Jiya is a teacher at an all-girls school. All in all, she represents a female vanguard of girl’s education. So why would there be any criticisms coming from certain feminists circles in Pakistan? Her burka.
To hide her identity, she wears a flowing black burka to fight the bad guys. Those who have issues with it say Burka is a sign of oppression and cannot be used to empower women. Some also say that it sends a wrong message by implying a woman can only be successful if she is invisible.
On the other hand, the cartoon is full of positive messages that counter all of that. First, Jiya is a school teacher who does not cover her head. She has a job, and is clearly committed to her social cause – she literally fights day and night to safeguard girl’s education. Second, she was adopted and her adopted father teaches her martial arts, which sends multiple positive messages: the parents adopted a baby girl instead of a baby boy which defies the traditional notion that baby boys are valued more; mastering martial arts and being athletic is not only for boys; and her adopted father clearly does not think her abilities are limited because of her gender but, instead, trains her and encourages her so she can fight for the cause. At the end of the episode, Burka Avenger has compelling messages for children: their rights to education and the importance of inner peace. I think that’s pretty awesome.
And, what is wrong with it if a woman chooses to wear a burka? Isn’t the argument that no woman should wear a burka as patronizing as those forcing women to wear one? Isn’t feminism about having the choice that a woman should decide for herself what she chooses to wear and what she chooses not to? Aren’t human rights about freedom of religion and being able to practice her faith as she wishes? A columnist with the Daily Beast, Faiza S Khan rightly said A working woman is seen deciding to put on a burka to hide her face to go beat up bad people without getting caught and we’re stuck on “Why a burka?” God help feminism, for that day has arrived when feminists are more concerned with what’s on woman’s head than with what’s in it.
Amen to that.
Burka Avenger has been talked about on various Western media outlets – NPR’s All Things Considered, Fox News, The Dish and FP to name a few - many of whom seem to agree that she is a pretty great superheroine. Some even argue that Burka Avenger is a much better female role model than the counterparts in the West such as scantily-clad female superheroines such as Wonder Woman and Disney princesses, whose main concern is to win the hearts of respective Prince Charmings.
The series comes with a thirteen episodes that will cover various relevant social issues in Pakistan, such as discrimination and child labor. I am really looking forward to watching them as they come out.
You can see the first episode here and see what you think about the show and the burka.