Cartoon Heroine Fights for a Burka


"She doesn't punch. She doesn't hit, she doesn't kick, she doesn't shoot anybody. All she does is clonk people on the heads with books or throw pens, so there's an underlying message with that - the importance of education — and the pen is mightier than the sword."

That's how Haroon Rashid describes his creation, Burka Avenger, a cartoon hero on Pakistani television that breaks the genre’s mould. The cartoon, originally in the Urdu language, has been praised for its unique take on women’s agency in Muslim society. The show follows the story of Jiya: by day an intelligent Sharif Muslim schoolteacher, by night a fighter for women’s rights and education against extremists.

Better known as a Pakistani pop star than as a cartoonist, Rashid also performs the show’s theme song. His concept for the cartoon was born when he heard reports of extremists shutting down girls’ schools. Rashid came up with the idea of a main female protagonist who defends a girls' school. In her black flowing Burka, and with the help of three schoolchildren, she stands up to thugs and corrupt politicians. Her goal is to ‘defend justice, peace and education for all.’

The show’s premise might sound far-fetched, but the issues the Burka Avenger tackles are everyday impediments in the lives of women, not only in Pakistan’s Northwest, where Taliban militants have blown up schools and prevented thousands of girls from going to school, but throughout the country. Nearly half of Pakistan's children are not enrolled in primary school, including nearly three quarters of young girls, according to the United Nations and 2012 government statistics.

"What business do women have with education?" one villain asks in an episode where they try to close down a school. "They should stay at home, washing, scrubbing and cleaning, toiling in the kitchen."

Since its July 2013 release, the series is set to air in 60 countries and be translated into numerous languages, including English and French.

You can watch the debut episode with English subtitles here, and follow the debate on the use of a burka, here. For stories related to women’s education, you can read Malala’s story here.

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