In a world where girls are prevented from accessing education and oppressed by corrupt and misogynist political parties, a hero will rise. Mild-mannered school teacher by day, ass-kicking superhero by night, only she can defeat the local Taliban and the evil men who seek to oppress the girls of Pakistan. She is…
THE BURKA AVENGER!
A new animated cartoon from Pakistan called “The Burka Avenger” is turning heads. The storyline follows Jiya, the school teacher in a small town in Pakistan. Disaster strikes when the girls’ school is shut down by new arrivals in the town: a Taliban-like villain and a corrupt politician based on Pakistani feudal lords. To fight for the girls’ right to education and equality, Jiya dons a black burka (to hide her identity) and proceeds to kick misogynist ass.
You can watch the first episode of “The Burka Avenger” here. Don’t worry, there are subtitles.
Jiya fights with books, pens, and acrobatics. She only wears the burka as her superhero alter-ego, going about her daily life with her head uncovered and wearing less concealing clothing.
The message of the show is simple: to inspire Pakistani children to value education for all, and to fight for equality across the genders. Jiya herself is meant to be an empowering figure: an educated, working woman who chooses what she wears and takes a bite out of misogynist villains to protect children.
The fight for girls’ education access in Pakistan is in the world’s spotlight after the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old activist for women’s rights and education. So now is the perfect time for “The Burka Avenger” to spread the word and gain support for the education of Pakistani girls.
“The Burka Avenger” is clearly more “Batman” than “Not Without My Daughter.” It’s also—dare I say it?—a rather feminist narrative. So why are Westerners in such a tizzy about it?
Simply put, the problem is the burka… and the fact that most people outside the cultures in which the burka is worn simply do not understand it.
According to RandomHouse India editor and critic Faiza S. Khan, there are those who see the burka as solely an instrument of oppression. It would therefore follow that “The Burka Avenger” is glorifying that instrument of oppression.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth, as any woman who willingly chooses to wear the burka will tell you (outside of regions where the burka is legally enforced, most women who wear the burka choose to of their own free will). And that’s who this story is about: a woman who chooses to wear the burka, and not even as a cultural symbol of modesty, but as her crime-fighting superhero costume.
If anything, “The Burka Avenger” is turning the potential oppression of a burka on its head by making it a superhero costume. Instead of a patriarchal prison, it’s the mask and cape of a feminist crime-fighter. As Khan writes:
“The show, far from glorifying the veil, shows it for what it is—an instrument intended to make women invisible. What a masterstroke to turn this on its head and have a woman use that invisibility to her benefit for a change. Far from normalizing it, it makes the burka into a costume, an outfit. Frankly, if it inspires little girls to wear what they wish during the day and slip out at night in a garbage bag, a burka, their pajamas, or their underwear worn over spandex to beat the living daylights out of the Taliban at night, I’ll take it.”
So long live the Burka Avenger! May she defeat the Taliban and bring education to every girl in Pakistan.