- Burqa - education - Islamic veil - Pakistan
Pakistan's burqa-ninja heroine set to go global
Pakistan’s new cartoon superheroine, a teacher wearing a ninja-style burqa to hide her identity and fight for female education, is set to go global, with plans to broadcast the popular TV show in 60 countries worldwide.
A TV distribution company in Europe is in touch with the producers of the Pakistani animation show for children “Burqa Avenger” to arrange its screening in 60 countries, including French-speaking nations, according to an AFP interview with the series’ creator.
The plan to take this Urdu-language cartoon series on the global stage highlights the international appeal of Jiya, aka “Burqa Avenger”, a mild-mannered teacher at day who turns into a superhero at night to fight local gangsters who are trying to shut down the girls’ school where she works. Armed with mere books and pens, the 'caped crusader' takes on Baba Bandook, a misogynist Taliban-like villain, and Vadero Pajero, a corrupt politician trying to pocket NGO money meant to fund the local girls’ school.
Jiya’s adventures touched a sensitive chord in Pakistan, where almost three quarters of young girls are not enrolled in primary school, according to UN and government statistics published last year.
The issue of girls' education in northwest Pakistan exploded across world headlines last October when Taliban gunmen shot Malala Yousafzai, a teenaged female activist for women's rights and education.
Batman & burka
The flowing black burqa, the super-dress of choice for the Pakistani TV series ninja-like heroine, has also caught the world's attention because the outfit is traditionally seen as an instrument of oppression of women, especially in the West.
The show’s artistic director, Yousaf Ejaz, told AFP that his inspiration came from his childhood: "I was a big fan of Batman, and my grandmother, she had a burqa (…) So back in the childhood when she was away, we would steal her burqa and act like Batman, wearing that burqa: 'I am Batman, look at me!'”
Despite its overwhelmingly positive message, the show triggered a lively debate in Pakistan’s English language press about whether Jiya's choice of disguise was a sign of empowerment or a means of promoting something used to oppress women.
Slamming what she called a "ridiculous Burqa Avenger backlash", Pakistani columnist Faiza S. Khan wrote that the show was not glorifying the burqa, but merely using it as part of a typical superhero creation myth.
“When we ignore the character’s intentions behind willingly adopting a burka (as a disguise), it brings us back to good old-fashioned patriarchy, whereby a woman’s decisions are dwarfed by whatever message her clothing is putting out,” wrote Khan in the Daily Beast.
Plans are afoot to translate the show into at least 18 different languages.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)