The world’s latest female superhero has to worry about more than just defeating evil geniuses. She has to save the day while managing not to trip over her disguise: a full-length burqa.
Burka Avenger, a new Pakistani TV show, mixes silly, pencil-wielding martial arts with social commentary on education for women, the Taliban, and the traditional Muslim garb used to cover women from head to toe.
Set to air this August, the animated action-comedy show centers around Jiya, a teacher by day and a burqa-decked superhero by night. In the first episode, Vadero Pajero, a politician sporting loud bling, tries to shut down the Burka Avenger’s school so he can pocket the money given to him by a charity to run the school. Evil Baba Bandook, with a bushy beard and a strong resemblance to Taliban leaders, happily helps Pajero, asking, “What business do women have with education?”
After Bandook locks the school, a girl student named Ashu steps forward and argues, “The girls of today are the mothers of tomorrow. If the mothers are not educated, then future generations will also remain illiterate.” The Burka Avenger then fights Bandook’s henchmen with her martial arts moves and throws a pen to break the lock on the school.
The show’s theme draws from real-world examples: Last October, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl advocating for women’s education. Last week Yousafzai, who now lives in Birmingham, England, spoke in front of the U.N. in New York about the attack: “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born."
One of Pakistan’s biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon Rashid, funded and designed Burka Avenger in an effort to emphasize the importance of girls’ education and other current social issues. He said he gave the super hero a full-length black burqa—which covers everything except her eyes and fingers—to give a local feel to the show.
“It’s not a sign of oppression,” Rashid said. “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.”
The creators said the goal of the show is to entertain people and make them laugh while driving home these deeper points. In one episode, Bandook plans to take over the world with a robot, starting in London, New York, and Paris. The plan seems brilliant until one of his minions brings Bandook back to reality: “But how will we get visas to go to all those places?”
The female warrior fighting with school supplies is more than just superhero lore. As Yousafzai told the U.N.: “Let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”