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#7 from 2013: A New Kind of Female Superhero: Burka Avenger

Shamiela Mir's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on August 29, 2013

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.

Photo Credit: Unicorn Black
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Submitted by Neusa Hirota on

With several societies getting women to wear "invisible burkas", yet equally constraining, Burka Avenger will bring hope and inspire many women and girls in the Middle East. Thanks for sharing, Shamiela!

This sounds like a great concept. Thanks so much for posting.

Pakistan has had a female head of state. The US has not.

Wearing a headscarf, burka, etc. is a religious issue. It is between a person, their god and their heart/soul/belief system. There is no reason a person should pay attention to what NPR or America's liberals/conservatives say. What happened to 'the land of the free"?

A key ingredient to economic development is educating women. Anything to promote this is good. Let's hope there is not too much fundamentalist/liberal backlash. - in either country.


Dear Michael,

Thank you so much for your comments. I could not agree with you more on Burka being a religious issue -- it is between a person, their god and their belief. We are all free to choose.


Submitted by Laurent Corthay on

Nice one Shamiela! Burka Avenger definitely sounds like a more inspiring role model than Sleeping Beauty... 'nuff said...

Submitted by Sri Lankan on

The author writes "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?"

I am slightly uncomfortable at this. I sense an intellectual dishonesty although I admit I can not pin point exactly how. The Burka is a symbol of oppression. Why is it that only women have to cover their faces? How can one defend a practice that makes women invisible in the public realm?

I am not talking of the cartoon here. I am merely commenting on the blogger's points.

Dear Sri Lankan, Many thanks for your comments. We have to respect the free will and the autonomy of adult females who freely choose, as many do, to wear the burka. Best, Shamiela

Submitted by Henriette on

Shamiela, have you ever tried on a burqa? And tried to walk around in it on a hot day? They are made out of synthetic fabrics and are very uncomfortable, particularly in hot climates (and summer in Afghanistan and Pakistan are VERY hot). You can only see poorly through the mesh, which is why you see women in burqas pulling them tightly to their face with one hand while they walk around. And try that if you have to carry your groceries, or your child or anything else - it is already hard to carry stuff while wearing a burqa anyhow. Martial Arts? I don't think so... I do not believe that any women - certainly not the women I talked to in Afghanistan - would wear this garnment without the considerable social pressure. Wearing a burqa is absolutely not a choice for most women who wear them. They wear them to be socially accepted and to avoid being beaten up or worse.

Don't get me wrong. I think the cartoon character is cool. And I love cartoons to reach children. The burqa part I do find questionable, as i find your arguments.

Best h.

Dear Henriette,

Given my own background and family history, I can see where you are coming from. Your perspective is one shared by many people. Thanks for the comments!


Submitted by Saiqa Qureshi on

I think this is the first in the history of Pakistan that we have seen a female super hero so widely accepted by most of us.... I believe the writer has done a wonderful job by trying to educate not only our younger lot 'right from wrong' 'helping the have-nots' etc with the aid of acquired education but also the adults too - which is far more needed in Pakistan.

What I am confused about is.. why is there criticism on the burka part? I guess there always is a need to be different to stand out and this is the very edge that has been used here. Nobody has any objections when a ninja is dressed in a similar fashion then why do people have a problem with burka? - I guess this is a power given to females! I respect every-ones' opinion but honestly I just seem to see a ninja rather than the burka stuff???

Its time women say NO to oppression!

Keep up the great work!!! I think the cartoon is awesome.
Best of luck to everyone who is part of the Burka Avenger.



Shameila thank you for sharing this which in my view seems to be a good move to ease tensions regarding Burka. A soft notion has been passed through this character as many said in their comments that it's kind of first move widely accepted the majority here. Some of the comments seems to an individual thinking not grasping the ground realities. Specifically Henriette's views seems to be vague as Burka is an essential cultural ingredient of societies in Afghanistan and Pakistan and not just worn due to any fear. Where Henriette researched is questionable...

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