Pakistani superhero ‘Burka Avenger’ a new ally to Malala’s fight for education

This Thursday, July 11, 2013 photo shows a poster for the "Burka Avenger" cartoon series, which is scheduled to start running on Geo TV in early August.
This Thursday, July 11, 2013 photo shows a poster for the "Burka Avenger" cartoon series, which is scheduled to start running on Geo TV in early August.
AP Photo/Sebastian Abbot

In the wake of Malala Yousafzai’s powerful speech at the UN about the need for universal education, a new television cartoon premiered in Pakistan featuring a female superhero who fights for just that.

Meet the Burka Avenger! By day, she’s a mild-mannered schoolteacher named Jiya, but when thugs try to shut down her girls’ school, Jiya transforms into a burka-wearing hero who uses her martial arts skills to protect every student’s right to learn.

Brainchild of Pakistani pop star Aaron Haroon Rashid, the sleek cartoon, which is set to premiere in August, is the country’s first. ”Each one of our episodes is centered around a moral, which sends out strong social messages to kids,” Rashid told the AP. “But it is cloaked in pure entertainment, laughter, action and adventure.”

The Burka Avenger’s main villains are a corrupt politician and a bearded evil magician who resembles a Taliban commander. Both antagonists are emblematic of real-world forces that keep education from the children of Pakistan.

As the shooting of 15-year-old advocate Malala Yousafzai shows, Taliban Pakistan will go to extraordinary lengths to keep young women from receiving an education. But as Kevin Watkins wrote in The Guardian Tuesday, an even bigger barrier to universal primary education is Pakistan’s own government.

“Pakistan is a case study for the consequences of political neglect of education,” Watkins wrote. “One in four of its primary school-age children–5 million in total–is out of school. Around half of those who get into school drop out before the end of grade 3. Not that getting through school is any guarantee of learning. After three years of primary education, only one-third of children are able correctly to formulate a sentence containing the word ‘school’ or add a two-digit sum.”

Though some international attention has focused on Pakistan’s education problem, Watkins says gains are less positive than have been reported. The Pakistani government, he says, has done little to combat structural problems like childhood malnutrition and tax avoidance, which contribute to educational issues.

And though Malala Yousafzai’s advocacy has inspired millions around the world, her popularity is not the same at home. As TIME’s Omar Waraich reported earlier this month, ”In an unpublished public opinion survey conducted earlier this year and seen by TIME, the International Republican Institute, based in Washington, D.C., found that a majority of Pakistanis polled didn’t blame the Taliban for the attack on Malala.”

Advocates for universal primary education have an uphill battle in Pakistan. In her speech at the UN, Malala urged all to keep the fight alive: “Let us pick up our books and our pens,” she said. “They are our most powerful weapons.”

They are also the only two weapons of The Burka Avenger.

Pakistani superhero 'Burka Avenger' a new ally to Malala's fight for education