‘Burka Avenger’ fights for girls, schooling

Mild-mannered teacher by day, masked superhero by night, the Burka Avenger fights corruption and oppression, and aims to empower the girls of Pakistan.Enlarge image

Mild-mannered teacher by day, masked superhero by night, the Burka Avenger fights corruption and oppression, and aims to empower the girls of Pakistan.


Pakistan’s newest caped crusader, “Burka Avenger” fights corrupt politicians and religious zealots using pens and books, reports NPR. A schoolteacher by day, she dons a burqa to fight for girls’ education.

Burka Avenger, which made its debut on Pakistani TV this week, aims to empower young women in a country where attacks on girls’ schools and repression of women remain enduring problems. It’s the brainchild of Pakistani entrepreneur and pop star Haroon Rashid . . .

“She is a schoolteacher named Jiya. She is a warm, bubbly, intelligent young woman who’s concerned about education, and concerned about the city and the people of Halwapur [the fictional city where the show is set]. … And then of course, to fight the bad guys, and to hide her identity the way superheroes do, she puts on the burqa. And it’s a really cool, sleek burqa, and she can leap off buildings and glide from, almost like a flying squirrel … and she only fights with pens and books, because I wanted a nonviolent message. Her message is, ‘Justice, Peace and Education for All.’ “

Jiva doesn’t wear a scarf or a hijab as a teacher, Rashid tells NPR. She chooses to wear the burqa to mask her identity like other superheroes.


Malala: ‘I want every girl to be educated’

“I want every girl, every child, to be educated,” said Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan for her advocacy of girls’ education. Recovering from surgery in Britain, the 15-year-old girl has started a charity to support schooling for girls.

The paternalism of rescue

If girls’ schools remain open in northwest Pakistan after Jan. 15, Taliban leaders threaten to attack schoolgirls and teachers and blow up the schools.

In response to a Crooked Timber post suggesting feminists have been reluctant to take up this cause, Keith M. Ellis comments on the inherent paternalism of Westerners trying to rescue Muslim women, which is “especially pernicious in the context where someone has been methodically and institutionally disempowered.”  Rescue “unfortunately continues the pattern of disempowerment.”

I happen to care a great deal about the oppression of women, in Afghanistan and everywhere else in the world.

. . . (But) it is not our job, as westerners — as outsiders — to specifically fight to improve the lot of Afghan women.

David Thompson notes the self-indulgence of this argument:

Well, one might argue against military intervention on an economic or tactical basis, or on grounds of pragmatism and self-interest. One might, for instance, argue that not every injustice can be engaged and it’s best to choose one’s battles. The ability to intervene is finite and conditional, and there are almost always other demands on whatever resources are available. But that isn’t the argument here.

Instead, Ellis argues the oppressed must empower themselves, while the rest of us “fight injustice” and “oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves.”  That way, “we can fight sexism in Afghanistan without placing ourselves into a paternalistic position.”

The “barriers” that prevent empowerment would be armed men willing to murder and maim unarmed girls and women.  I think by “fight” Ellis means “not fight.”

In response to Brahmin demands to continue the practice of burning the widow on her husband’s funeral pyre, the British governor of Sind, Gen. Charles Napier, said:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

Horribly paternalistic. That poor widow survived unburnt — rescued and disempowered.

Pakistani Taliban bans girls’ schools

Pakistan’s Taliban has ordered girls’ schools to close by Jan. 15 in the Swat region. Buildings will be blown up and schoolgirls attack if the ban is defied, the fundamentalists warned in mosque speeches and radio broadcasts.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.

Some closed schools have been turned into madrassas, where boys memorize the Koran.

The militants have also prohibited immunisation for children against polio – claiming that the UN-sponsored vaccination drive is aimed at causing sexual impotence – causing a sharp rise in cases of the disease.

Islamic militants have been fighting government forces in the region.  As Pakistan moves more troops to the Indian border, the pressure may ease on the Islamic militants.