Wonder Woman and Supergirl now have a Pakistani counterpart in the pantheon of female superheroes – one who shows a lot less skin.
Meet Burka Avenger, a mild-mannered teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a black burka to hide her identity as she fights thugs seeking to shut down the girls’ school where she works – a battle Pakistanis are all too familiar with in the real world.
The Taleban has blown up hundreds of schools and attacked activists in Pakistan’s north-west because it opposes girls’ education.
The militants sparked worldwide condemnation last autumn when they shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, 15, in the head in an unsuccessful attempt to kill her.
Action in the Burka Avenger cartoon series, which is scheduled to hit TV screens in early August, is much more light-hearted. The bungling bad guys evoke more laughter than fear and are no match for the Burka Avenger, who wields books and pens as weapons.
The Urdu-language show is the brainchild of one of Pakistan’s biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon Rashid, who conceived it as a way to emphasise the importance of girls’ education and teach children other lessons, such as protecting the environment and not discriminating against others. This last point is critical in a country where Islamist militants wage repeated attacks on religious minorities.
“Each one of our episodes is centred around a moral, which sends out strong social messages to kids,” Mr Rashid said. “But it is cloaked in pure entertainment.”
The decision to clothe the superhero in a black burka, a full-length robe commonly worn by conservative Islamic women in Pakistan and Afghanistan, could raise eyebrows as some people view it as a sign of oppression.
But Mr Rashid said: “It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes.”
A group of children who were shown the first episode at an orphanage on the outskirts of Islamabad laughed and cheered as the Burka Avenger vanquished her enemies.
Samia Naeem, ten, said she liked the crusading heroine “because she saved kids’ lives”.