“Burka Avenger”: new TV #superhero in Pakistan

I’ve always had an idea for “Burka Ninja.” When I visited the UAE, all the sea of eyes can’t help but make you think that there’s a ninja in there under the sea of black hiding the Prada dress and Jimmy Choo heels. 

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But Haroon Rashoudi, a Pakistani entrepreneur and pop star, turned idea into a hard-won reality. He is the producer of an animated TV series that debuted last week called “Burka Avenger” about a mild mannered teacher, Jiya, who fights bad guys at night with superhero powers — clad in a burka. Her weapons: books and pens.  The tagline: “Justice, Peace, and Education for all.”

Avenger works well as a ninja. Avenger or ninja, it will take a badass extraordinary person — people — from within the communities to create change. Just as it does for any community.   From my time volunteering, the situation in parts of Pakistan are as bad as Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan. Education is being fought for tooth-and-nail there. That the show’s hero is a female teacher is setting an excellent example to all the boys and girls of the region.

As Malala’s journey shows, educating girls can turn deadly. Sadly, Malala is at times painted as a stooge for the US, a label liberally given to any progressive who is seen with foreigners. Whatever the extent of US involvement in her recovery, it’s an insult to everything Malala has endured to call her a spineless stooge. But that’s the fate of real life progressives: they are politicized.

An animated hero is saved all of that. She is homespun. She will not be killed. In areas where women don’t go out after dark, she has her superpowers to guide her at night. So, she is free to blend in during the daytime without causing “problems.” No media coverage, especially internationally, will cast her in the light of an apologist or “stooge.”  Her family members will be safe.  She will provide help without any economic assistance or weapons. It is fiction after all.

In reality, many women, like those of RAWA, are already superheroes and have no choice but to wear a burka to combat their enemies. They must be in burkas not only due to unspoken laws of certain regions but to disguise their identities since retaliation can be targeted to one’s entire family.  But many of these real life heroes do not get and/or do not want media coverage. 

So bravo to the creator and distributors of this series. Rarely does TV act as an agent of change, and even as an industry professional I can say that entertainment, and even most art, cannot create change. But at its best, shows like this can provide a role model, reflect voices that are often not heard, and can act as a springboard for dialogue. The fact that it is allowed to be aired is already a success. 

Given the war on female healthcare in the United States, I propose “Cowgirl Ninja,” a Cowboys cheerleader by day and pistol wielding, blue jean clad (dark wash, of course) ninja at night who keeps open healthcare clinics and combats zealots and corrupt politicians. 

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