Cartoon Burka Avenger is Pakistan’s first female superhero. A compassionate school teacher by day and a villian-fighting hero by night, she is creating a mostly positive impression in a place where female literacy is at an unnerving 12%.
This animated series is the idea of Aaron Haroon Rashid, who set out to develop an iPhone app under the same name last year. A promo video was developed on Burka Avenger, but eventually it took on a life of its own when the 13 episode animated series was created to air on the Geo TV network next year. “Burka Avenger is a great role model,” says Aaron. “We lack those in Pakistan.”
Unfortunately, many real life heroes in Pakistan may not agree with Aaron since the burka is a very controversial piece of clothing in Pakistan, a country reeling from the effects of religious extremism over the last decade. The question is whether it is right to have a female super hero wearing a burka, a symbol of woman’s suppression in Pakistan. “It’s subversive to say that you can only get power when you don a symbol of women’s oppression,” says Marvi Sirmed, an Islamabad journalist. “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 says that the reason Burka Avenger wears her namesake has no reason to do with subservience. She wears the outfit due to her background story and because she has to “kick butt.” The cartoon has gone viral over the internet even before Aaron’s own production house has been able to do any promo work for the super hero. The series has been developed by a 22-member production team in Islamabad, creating music videos featuring popular Pakistani musicians as well as Burka Avenger gear.
The theme of Burka Avenger will focus around tolerance, equality and social issues in Pakistan. Non-violence is the key with this superhero who uses pens and books to thwart her enemy. “She is throwing books. Most people throw bombs,” says Aaron.
I have mixed feelings about Burka Avenger. Although she teaches good lessons, she is, as journalist Marvi said, wearing the burka, something associated in Pakistan as a symbol of oppression in women. I can see how the burka is logical for the super hero to wear as some kind of mask, but perhaps there is an alternative that also empowers gurls.
The idea of Burka Avenger fighting violence with her pens and books saying that the pen is mightier than the sword is great. But how is she supposed to fight in such a restricting piece of clothing? I do not believe she is setting a good example to the students’ she teaches by giving into the rules the Taliban and extremist rulers have set in place.
Nevertheless, I can see how she would appeal to gurls who look like her, encouraging them to fight for education, something gurls are sorely lacking in Pakistan. They will see a vivid cartoon hero who is promoting education and non-violence in their resistance against oppression in the country.