A burka-clad cartoon heroine has made her debut appearance on Pakistani television.
The computer-generated animation “Burka Avenger” tells the story of Jiya, teacher by day and masked vigilante by night, who wears the burka – or full veil – to hide her identity.
In the first episode Jiya takes on a corrupt politician who wants to close a school for girls that he describes as “unnecessary”. Education is a key message of the series which sees the protagonist fighting mostly against men, armed with “Takht Kabaddi” a form of karate that uses books and pens as weapons.
Behind the cartoon is a serious issue that many Pakistanis are all-too familiar with: in recent months the Taliban has blown up hundreds of girls’ schools in the north-west of the country and nationwide female literacy is estimated at a meagre 12%.
The controversial tale echoes that of Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who survived being shot by the Taliban after campaigning for girls’ education.
An original message
The cartoon is the brainchild of singer, musician and producer Aaron Haroon Rashid and despite having only aired one episode so far, it is already kicking up a storm.
In Pakistan some are hailing Jiya as a role model for showing Pakistani women from a new angle, as feisty and determined women.
However others have criticized the cartoon’s use of the burka in a country struggling with the effects of religious extremism. Speaking to the BBC, human rights activist Marvi Sirmed asked: “How could you get power from a symbol that is so humiliating and demeaning to women’s power? Projecting a symbol that is so closely associated with the submission of women and you are now just re-imagining and re-imaging the burka, the symbol of suppression, as a symbol of resistance.”
Burka aside, around the world people are praising the cartoon for portraying a heroine that tackles important issues. As the Huffington Post put it: “We think Disney could learn a thing or two about what a female protagonist should look like”.