Anya Wassenberg
August 06, 2013

The Burka Avenger Kicks Butt as Pakistan’s First Female Superhero (VIDEO)

In the quiet land of Halwapur, all is peaceful and good. Major Pakistani pop singers come to play concerts for the kids — until the bad guys come to town to shut down the school and terrorize the people. Out of the chaos, a new kind of heroine is born: the Burka Avenger.

By day, she is Jiya, a mild-mannered school teacher, but by night, cloaked entirely in black and armed only with books and pens, she fights to restore “justice, peace and education for all.”

The Burka Avenger premiered at the end of July on Pakistani’s Geo Tez TV, becoming the first homegrown cartoon series in a country saturated with American media. Perhaps more significantly, it features a female heroine not afraid to take on social injustice.

The show’s Facebook page is careful to mention, “The Burka Avenger wears the burka veil to hide her identity like superheroes do.” It’s an obvious attempt to address what’s been immediate criticism from some  — like former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Sherry Rehman — that the burqa represents female oppression.

Others, like Pakistani novelist and blogger Bina Shah, have noted that the burqa’s traditional associations with holding women back have been turned on their heads, even while acknowledging the burqa’s problematic nature as a symbol of power.

Creator and Pakistani pop star Haroon Rashid had this to say in an interview with NPR:

“We chose the burqa because of course we wanted to hide her identity the way superheroes do. She doesn’t wear the burqa during the day — she doesn’t even wear a headscarf, or a hijab or anything like that; she goes about her business as a normal teacher would. And so she chooses to wear the burqa, she’s not oppressed … and on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of female superheroes in the West are objectified, and sort of sexualized in their costumes, like Catwoman and Wonder Woman, and that certainly would not work here.”

The episodes are entertaining and deliver the satisfaction of good triumphing over evil along with a moral that the Avenger outlines for the kids at the end of every show. So far, 13 episodes have been produced, tackling such weighty issues as child labor and religious violence. Kids seem to love both the concept and the stories. The website offers games, music, merchandise and a cell phone app to add to the experience.

The whole idea started from an iPhone game, as Rashid tells it.  There’s been a huge rush of interest in the show and there are plans to translate it into 18 languages and broadcast it in more than 60 countries worldwide — so it may be coming to a screen near you soon.

Here’s a look behind the scenes of this very cool addition to the ranks of cartoon heroes: