Meet Pakistan's first caped crusader, The Burka Avenger — a new superhero who's promoting girl power in that country. But the new animated character is dressed in a burka, and that's causing no small amount of controversy in Pakistan and abroad.
The animated action-comedy features Jiya, a teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a ninja-like black burka to hide her identity as she fights the local bad guys who are trying to shut down the girl's school where she works. Armed with only books and pencils, the character sends a moral message to children about the importance of education and not discriminating against others.
Indeed, these messages are much needed in a country that's experiencing tremendous social and sectarian unrest — and in which 88% of girls cannot read.
The show is certainly timely given recent events. Back on October 9th, 2012, 16 year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck in a failed assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen. Yousafzai, who is known for her outspoken views on education and women's rights, is now a hugely important figure as girls and women struggle to overcome repression in Pakistan.
When asked about the choice of clothing for Jiya, Haroon, the show's creator (and a Pakistani pop star), said that "It's not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes. Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn't have worked in Pakistan."
But not everyone agrees with the choice of apparel. Despite the fact that Jaya defies many stereotypes, some critics are complaining that the head-to-toe veil is re-enforcing existing religious and conservative values. The burka, they argue, is a symbol of women's oppression.
Human rights activist Marvi Sirmed explained it to the BBC this way:
How can you get power from a symbol that humiliates and demeans women's power? Walking around in a burka is like a walking prison — projecting a symbol that is so closely associated with the submission of women. And you are now re-imagining the burka — the symbol of suppression — as a symbol of resistance. I don't agree with it.