Pakistan's 'Burka Avenger' uses books, pens to right wrongs

A children's cartoon TV series, in which a female superhero dons a burka to fight injustice, has won a prestigious Peabody Award.

Athar Hussain/Reuters/File
A girl wearing a burka hides behind another as they visit the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mausoleum in Karachi, Pakistan. A new children's TV series, "Burka Avenger," depicts a Pakistani girl who uses her burka as part of her superhero garb.

"Burka Avenger," a Pakistani children’s cartoon series about a female superhero who dons a burka to tackle a range of issues from discrimination against women to environmental protection, has won a prestigious Peabody Award, the organization has said.

The 13-episode series was launched in Pakistan in August last year and has been extremely popular both there and abroad.

Its main protagonist, a teacher called Jiya – who uses books and pens as weapons in her fight – was named as one of the most influential fictional characters of 2013 by Time magazine.

"In the Pakistani children’s series Burka Avenger, a symbol of women’s subjugation becomes a super-heroine’s mask.

"At the center of the action is a teacher, Jiya, who dons a magical cape at night to right the wrongs around her, from the ban on girls going to school, to child labor abuses, to environmental degradation," the Peabody Awards said in a statement on its website May 21.

"For its deft handling of a deadly serious theme – the empowerment of women – in a part of the world where it has particular and timely resonance, Burka Avenger receives a Peabody Award."

Media pundits say the series immediately struck a chord in Pakistan where Taliban militants have prevented thousands of girls from going to school and attacked activists campaigning for their education.

The issue grabbed the world’s attention in October 2012 when child rights activist Malala Yousafzai was shot and badly injured by militants who boarded her school bus in northwest Pakistan.

"In the TV series, Burka Avenger fights for women’s empowerment and education for girls," said Haroon Rashid, a Pakistani pop star and social activist, who came up with the idea for the series.

"She is a fictional character but she represents something very real in terms of the dreams, aspirations, and challenges of the people of Pakistan and many around the world. Burka Avenger stands for justice, tolerance, peace, and education for all."

The George Foster Peabody Awards, known as the Peabody Awards, are named after U.S. businessman and philanthropist George Peabody and honor programs made for television, radio, and websites. There are 25 to 35 winners annually from more than 1,000 entries.

This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.

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