Afghanistan’s version of Sesame Street is introducing a new character to its lineup: a four-year-old puppet named Zeerak, meaning “smart,” whose addition to the cast of puppets intends to help teach young boys about the importance of respecting women.
Zeerak’s release comes a year after the introduction of his sister, Zari, a female puppet who was previously brought onto the show to help inspire girls. Given Afghanistan’s reputation as an ultra-conservative Muslim nation with extremely low literacy rates, the need for a character like Zari is evident just by the numbers. Only about 31 percent of all adults in Afghanistan are literate, and the number drops to just 17 percent when considering only women.
Massood Sanjer, the head of Tolo TV, the channel that broadcasts the show, spoke of the success of Zari, saying that the response from both parents and children was overwhelmingly positive. The goal of Zeerak is to create a character for boys that would elicit a similar response.
“In a male-dominant country like Afghanistan,” he said, “I think you have to do some lessons for the males to respect the females. So by bringing a male character to the show who respects a female character, you teach the Afghan men that you have to respect your sister the same way as you do your brother.”
Sanjer also spoke of the way the puppets could help in small ways to bolster the country’s economy. A boy watching the show will learn that not only he can grow up to become a doctor, but that his sister can too.
“Your sister can be a doctor and you can be a doctor. Your sister can be a teacher and you can be a teacher. So this would be very much good for the society, economically, for the family, and for the mutual respect of the male and female.”
Though television in Afghanistan is viewed mostly in urban areas, the show is broadcasted on the radio in both of the country’s official languages, Pashtun and Dari, allowing almost all of the country access to the ideals that Zeerak and Zari promote.
These ideals include teaching young boys to love not just their sisters, but their sisters’ friends too.
“I love Zari so much and as much as I love Zari, I love her friends too,” Zeerak proclaimed in a recent episode.
Zari and Zeerak were fashioned in New York, their costumes made with care to incorporate all major ethnic groups in order to promote inclusiveness in a country that has suffered from conflict for decades.
Afghanistan has been at war since the Soviet Invasion of 1979. Since then, the country has been involved in a civil war, in which tens of thousands of people died (in Kabul alone) and in which people were separated by their ethnicity.
Women in Afghanistan lost even more when the Taliban took over in 1996, banning them from working and attending school.
Zari and Zeerak are just small steps in combating such a large a problem, but they certainly provide much-needed hope and entertainment. Even the smallest of steps are necessary to make the world a better place for all.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter