In the west, female superheroes are often a study in contradictions. Although fighting for equality and justice, more often than not, they tend to be clad in the sort of outfits that suggest more Playgirl pin-up than serious champion of female empowerment. There’s a new breed of hero rising in Asia though.
Clad in a sweeping black veil, the Burka Avenger throws off her mild mannered school teacher alter-ego to become a scourge of all those who stand against education for girls in Pakistan.
Both on and off the small screen, she’s already making waves. Although the first show has yet to air, in a country where female literacy stands at a bleak 12% and the Taliban are waging a brutish war on girls’ schools in the north-west of the country, the Burka Avenger is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The conception of popstar Aaron Haroon Rashid, the character was initially intended for an iPhone game app by the same name last year.
This is such an interesting way to reinforce positive social messages for kids…The Burka Avenger is a great role model. We lack those in Pakistan
A small animated video was developed to promote the app, but the main character completely stole the show, leading to the development of a full 13-episode animated series, set to air on the Geo television channel early next month.
Mr Rashid told the BBC,”This is such an interesting way to reinforce positive social messages for kids…The Burka Avenger is a great role model. We lack those in Pakistan.”
Of course, not everyone is in favour of swopping capes for burkas. The full head-to-to veil donned by the character is worn by women in the north-west and tribal areas of Pakistan, and proponents of women’s rights argue that it is symbolic of female oppressions in these regions.
Marvi Sirmed, an Islamabad-based journalist and human rights activist, argues that “It is subversive and it says that you can only get power when you don a symbol of oppression. It is demeaning to those brave women in the conservative parts of Pakistan who have been fighting for women’s rights, education and justice, and who have said ‘no’ to this kind of stereotype.”
Aaron Rashid argues that critics should wait for the character’s back-story and reasons for wearing the burka to be unveiled through the course of the show before they pass judgement. He points out that the theme of the program will not only center on the girls’ school, but will also teach children about the values of tolerance, equality and other social issues in Pakistani society, with books and pens circumventing violence to show evil-doers the error of their ways.