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Jul 31 2013

Burka Avenger

Pakistan now has its own caped crusader, but under the cape is a burqa. Hmm.

Pakistan’s first caped crusader is a burka-clad superhero who fights school-hating baddies by night and moonlights as a gentle, compassionate schoolteacher by day.

Burka Avenger has yet to launch on TV, but she is creating quite an impression in a country where female literacy is estimated at a grim 12% and the Taliban are continuing a campaign which has seen hundreds of girls’ schools blown up in the north-west.

That sounds quite good, in a way. But…a burqa?

“This is such an interesting way to reinforce positive social messages for kids,” Mr Rashid told the BBC. “The Burka Avenger is a great role model. We lack those in Pakistan.”

Many real life women’s rights crusaders in Pakistan might not agree. The use of the burka, the full cloth head-to-toe veil that is often worn by women in the north-west and tribal areas of Pakistan, is controversial in a country which has been reeling from the effects of religious extremism over the past decade.

Marvi Sirmed, an Islamabad-based journalist and human rights activist, thinks that it is not right to build a resistance figure out of a woman wearing a garment that has been strongly associated by some with the suppression of women.

“It is subversive and it says that you can only get power when you don a symbol of oppression,” says Ms Sirmed.

“It is demeaning to those brave women in the conservative parts of Pakistan who have been fighting for women’s rights, education and justice, and who have said ‘no’ to this kind of stereotype.”

In one way, yes, but in another way, it’s more like subverting the burqa.

Taha Iqbal, the head of animations for Burka Avenger, thinks that everyone should just wait for the series to come out.

He says like any other superhero, Burka Avenger has a back-story too and her reasons for wearing the burka have nothing to do with subservience.

“Besides she has to kick ass,” he says. “Tight leather pants are hardly practical for that purpose.”

No, but dude, neither is a giant bag over your body and a smaller bag over your head. Those aren’t practical for kicking ass either.

 

 

 

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Ysanne

    The title character is a (not quite) mild-mannered girls’ school teacher sans burka by day, and Burka Avenger by night, when she fights the bad guys who threaten her students/school/girls’ education or do otherwise bad things that Pakistani society should stop accepting. She does ninja-like stuff with pencils and books as weapons. I agree that a burka disguise is less practical than wearing a ninja suit, but it still beats the hell out of ridiculous stuff like Catwoman’s “mask” or Green Arrow’s green-makeup-stripe across the eyes, plus it has a local connection combined with a taking-it-back message, in addition to cool wooooosh cape-effects (cf. link below). So all in all, I think the burka is a very justifiable and appropriate choice; the problem is more that there’s a clear need for this kind of superhero.

    For some more-or-less direct info including bits from the show’s makers and promo pics, try this Google-translation of an article by a German journalist who lives in Pakistan.

  2. 2
    carlie

    He did an interview on NPR that I heard today, that makes some of the same points that Ysanne just made. I’m still a little squeamish over it, but I could see his perspective. She dresses “western” most of the time, not even a hijab. She only puts on the burqua to hide her identity, to him in the same way that Batman does. We have nothing to stand on in terms of respect for women when it comes to the outfits our female superheroes wear (Catowman, Wonder Woman, etc.). He also clams that it’s not as socially required of an outfit in Pakistan as in some other countries, but I don’t know how truthful that statement is.

  3. 3
    hjhornbeck

    As much as I dislike the burqa, I can see promise in this. Imagine a little girl who’s pissed off she’s forced to wear that cloth, tuning into this show and going “holy crap, I didn’t realize this would be the perfect disguise to fight crime in!”

  4. 4
    Dave Ricks

    Here’s the trailer, dubbed from Urdu to
    English
    , and Episode 1.

    I liked it, so I went to the BurkaAvenger web site and I bought the T-shirt in black. They take PayPal, so that was easy.

  5. 5
    Jurjen S.

    Pursuant to hj’s comment at #3, you can probably hide a fair amount of firepower and ammunition under a burqa too.

  6. 6
    Ysanne

    #4 thanks!.

  7. 7
    dalbryn

    When I use to watch cartoons (who am I kidding I still watch cartoons) that was called a ninja mask.

  8. 8
    Athena Andreadis

    What she’s wearing is not a burqa, it’s a half-face mask. She would barely be able to see and judge distances out of a burqa eye-mesh.

  9. 9
    kestra

    EC-tually, that costume seems more reminiscent of a niqab, but that term isn’t as well-known in the English-speaking world, plus I think “Burqa Avenger” sounds cooler than “Niqab Avenger”. Either way, I think this is a really neat idea, and look forward to seeing how it goes. I hope it proves really popular! As far as “Practical” crime-fighting gear, Batman wears essentially the same thing. Good for the goosebat…

  10. 10
    rosiebell

    I’ve watched the clip, and it’s looks really sweet. As the guy said, the woman in the burkha is not any less practically dressed for superhero work than leather cat suits, or guys in lycra (presumably) body suits and masks. How sweaty they must get. It’s quite a take having what hides women really being a disguise for a super hero.

    In the film Van Helsing Kate Beckinsale runs away from flying vampires wearing high heeled boots and a corset. I wouldn’t choose a burkha to escape flying vampires or other evil forces – but it would be better than a corset.

    The little kids look like the children in Japanese animation.

  11. 11
    leni

    Well, pencils and books don’t exactly make the best ass-kicking equipment either.

    While I love the symbolism, I admit I was a little disappointed. There is a still a not-so-smallish part of me that kinda wants to see a rocket launcher. Or maybe just a good old fashioned Buffy-style ass-kicking. Maybe just a scimitar or something? But then I realized that I’ve seen those things before and this is a different story. So pencils and books and burkas? Why not?

    I listened to that NPR segment yesterday and basically winced until I heard the creator (writer? not really sure) explain his angle. It also occurred to me that this isn’t a story created for Americans (though it’s certainly accessible enough to just about anyone in any culture, I imagine). It’s a story created by and for people who are much more familiar with that garment than I will ever be and if it gives them joy to see it subverted, then that makes me happy for them.

  12. 12
    leni

    Yes Dave Ricks @#4, thanks!

    It looks pretty fucking lovable.

  13. 13
    keresthanatos

    When I grow up I want to be “The Burka Avenger”.

    I also think she needs a cameo in the next Avengers Movie.
    Maybe a 15-20 second clip of her helping kids out of the way, followed by a scene where one of the “superstars” Iron Man, Hulk or Thor is getting the crap kicked out of them, and she easily takes two of the villians down with a quill pen driven through the head, heart, or other vital place allowing the “superstar to preveil. Followed by the confused “who was that covered woman” as she easily vanishes. Then later as they ponder who she was, while a camera feed with approp. dressed (Pakistani) populance milling about in the backround of the shot, she could be shown sheaparding her class along the street.

    Lets start a petition.

  14. 14
    Taha Iqbal

    she is agile and her art form involves alot of jumping and flipping like batman and being a huge batman fan it would have been an ideal design for me to work with but we had to keep our targeted audience in mind , we could have given her a ninja like costume but we had to think of something local and supports our back story

  15. 15
    Ophelia Benson

    Well hello.

    Yes, I can see that, but there are problems with it. But I understand that you have to work in your own circumstances.

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