Can a burka be a symbol of women’s liberation?
That provocative question is at the heart of a new Pakistani children’s cartoon, of all things. 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.
But critics have latched on to the choice of the burka as a vessel to convey that message. Why is it, they ask, that this woman has to cover herself to make a difference? This is a debate that has been kicking around in the blogosphere for some time, but now the first episode of the Urdu-language show, which aired in late July on Pakistan’s Geo TV, has arrived complete with English substitles. You can watch it here (if you need more of an incentive to watch to the end, the closing credits are great):
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.
After all, every hero needs a disguise.