A Pakistani cartoon titled ‘Burka Avenger’ is being screened at London’s publicly-funded South Bank Centre for the next ten days. The toon tells the story of burka-clad schoolteacher Jiya who “fights for justice, peace and educational for all – with books and pens as her weapons.”
The cartoons – which are available for free online – will be screened at the Royal Festival Hall across from London’s Houses of Parliament from May 20th to May 30th.
The South Bank Centre lists the show as having been created by a Pakistani social activist named Aaron Haroon Rashid, and regularly airs on Nickelodeon Pakistan.
But critics have said the show could glorify the burka – a symbol of oppression against women.
In 2013 former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rahman tweeted: “BurkaAvenger is good but I don’t likethe feudal stereotyping or the burqa.A dupatta could have done the job of relating to context”. A ‘dupatta’ is a stylish scarf.
@BinaShah BurkaAvenger is good but I don't likethe feudal stereotyping or the burqa.A dupatta could have done the job of relating to context
— SenatorSherryRehman (@sherryrehman) July 28, 2013
But show creator Mr. Rashid argued that Jiya doesn’t wear the burka during her day job as a teacher, only at night when she is fighting against corruption.
He commented: “I chose the burka because I wanted a locally relatable flavour and I didn’t want to objectify our super hero the way a lot of female superheroes in the West are objectified and sexualised through their costumes, like Catwoman and Wonder Woman. It’s not about how she looks or what she’s wearing, it’s about what she is doing.”
He told the Washington Post: “That we are trying to subjugate women is completely incorrect. ’The Burka Avenger’ is all about women’s empowerment”.
In CNN, he added: “By wearing a burqa she is showing she is a Muslim woman and superhero. And that she stands for all the good things of Islam and the real Islamic values — which are equality, woman’s rights, education and peace — rather than the way Islam has been hijacked by radical elements”.
Novelist Bina Shah wrote in a blog post: “Is it right to take the burqa and make it look ‘cool’ for children, to brainwash girls into thinking that a burqa gives you power instead of taking it away from you?”
The lady in black – as the show’s theme song calls Jiya – is the most popular children’s television show in Pakistan.