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Wonder Woman in a burqa. This is the best thing you'll see all day.

burka avanger
Mild-mannered schoolteacher by day…

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.

burka avanger
… Burqa Avenger by night!

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.

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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.

Malala Yousafzai.
Malala Yousafzai.

Sarah Malik – a journalist, blogger and Monash university journalism lecturer of Pakistani background – spoke to Mamamia, and said she sees the show as a positive development. “Burqa Avenger is a smart, powerful, subtle, strong Muslim woman.

She’s a fantasy most Pakistanis long for …  We wish we had super powers that could magically neuter extremist nuts and the corrupt politicians that enable them, in a society where the right to go to school has exposed women and girls to violence.”

She continues: “By having a niqabi feminist heroine – at once both indigenous to Pakistani culture and Islam, it reclaims those forces as a source of power for Muslim women, neutralising criticisms of feminism and human rights as a western impost and cleverly repositioning Burqa Avengers’ enemies as antithetical to mainstream Islam and local values.”

Author and writer Amal Awad – who wrote Courting Samira, a novel from the perspective of a young, single Muslim woman living in Sydney – also spoke to Mamamia about the new show, and praised it for being a clever approach to dealing with an important issue – education for girls. “And it will reach younger audiences,” she says, “which is where you have to start.”

While Amal doesn’t believe that the show will challenge any assumptions that non-religious Western audiences will make about the burqa, just because it has been animated and glamourised in the show, she does say that it “might take out some of the judgment if they look beyond the appearance to the [personality of the] characters.”

Amal says what’s important is that the focus of the show isn’t the burqa; it’s the battlefield. Education for girls. “In spite of expectations in dress, these girls and women are active, talented people who want an education. Education is essential.”

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