By MELISSA WELLHAM
Pakistan has a new female superhero: the Burka Avenger.
The Burka Avenger is a mild-mannered Clark Kent-ish schoolteacher by day, who dons a – yep, you guessed it – burka (or burqa), and uses her kick-ass martial arts skills to fight the bad guys by night.
And who are the bad guys? Nefarious individuals who want to shut down the local girls’ school that the Avenger teaches at. A crooked politician, and an evil magician (hey, it’s a kids show) who looks a lot like a Taliban commander.
The show was created by Aaron Haroon Rashid, a Pakistani pop star – who funded a lot of the development himself. He wanted to create the show to highlight the importance of education for girls, and teach lessons of tolerance to children.
It’s a message that is timely.
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ right to an education, would undoubtedly agree.
From my perspective, there is something thoroughly wonderful about the Burka Avenger. Whether or not you believe a burqa is a symbol of oppression, here any connotation it carries is turned on its head. This woman dons traditional garb to hide her identity, certainly – but also to defeat the extreme forces that might be trying to dictate that she wears the garb in the first place.
The Burqa (and headscarves, and the niqab, and the khimar, and the chador, and you know, a nun’s habit) are often called tools of oppression by individuals outside of the religions or cultures that encourage and/or enforce their wear.
But they are also symbols of faith and identity. And for the women who choose to wear them, it can be deeply affronting – not to mention infuriating, condescending and patronising – to suggest that they are allowing themselves to be controlled by the patriarchy.