The Burka Avenger

Aug 17 2013 @ 8:25am

A Pakistani cartoon features a burka-clad heroine:

Burka Avenger stars a girls’ school teacher who dons a burka to combat a cast of Taliban-esque villains with a decidedly conservative view of the appropriate role of women in society (the show contains clear parallels to Malala Yousafzai, the young campaigner for girls’ education in Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban). To fight these nemeses, Jiya, the star of the show, employs a novel form of marshal arts that utilizes only books and pens. The message is clear: The pen is mightier than the sword.

Faiza S. Khan defends the show’s use of a burka:

It goes without saying that forcing women to wear anything is entirely unacceptable. The woman in question, however, is adopting the veil of her own free will, for the express purpose of obscuring her identity. When we ignore the character’s intentions behind willingly adopting a burka (as a disguise), it brings us back to good old-fashioned patriarchy, whereby a woman’s decisions are dwarfed by whatever message her clothing is putting out.

Elias Groll agrees that Jiya’s burka is not a simple symbol of oppression:

Ultimately, the show — in emphasizing the right of girls to an education — is doing something far more subversive with the burka than its critics contend. It’s also important to note that Jiya is not covered by day, and only puts on the burka when she assumes her crime-fighting alter ego. That she does so in a burka while running atop power lines to a sweet theme song seems all the better. Suddenly the woman in the burka has been turned into something altogether different — a pretty great superhero.

M. Sophia Newman suggests that the educational benefits of the show may extend beyond wealthier Pakistanis more likely to own a TV:

[A] 2007 economics study (PDF) documented an upswing in gender equality and education in India after the arrival of cable television. “Introducing cable increases the likelihood of current enrollment for girls by 3.5 percentage points,” the authors wrote, describing a shift over four times larger than the 0.83% increase created by the Pakistani government between 2005 and 2011. … By promoting middle-class values to the Pakistanis who do see the show, “Burka Avenger” might make the show’s tagline a real promise to Pakistan’s Islamist minority: “Don’t mess with the lady in black.”