Afghanistan’s version of the popular children’s show, “Sesame Street” recently introduced a new character aimed at teaching young boys how to treat women well, ABC News reported. In the Muslim-majority country, where women are often abused and viewed as less than their male counterparts, the decision was nothing short of groundbreaking.
Zeerak, whose name means “Smart” in Afghanistan’s two official languages, Pashtun and Dari, is the newest character to join the cast of “Baghch-e-SimSim,” or “Sesame Garden.” Zeerak is a 4-year-old boy who loves to learn and play with his older sister, Zari, whose name means “Shimmering.” Baghch-e-SimSim creators debuted 6-year-old Zari last year with the goal of inspiring young girls to be confident and inquisitive.
Speaking to ABC, Massood Sanjer, the head of TOLO TV, which broadcasts Baghch-e-SimSim in Afghanistan, said that after Zari’s character received an overwhelmingly approving response from both parents and children, the show’s creators were encouraged to build on the show’s pro-women theme. Zeerak serves as an example who teaches little boys how to respect the females in their life.
“In a male-dominant country like Afghanistan, 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 said.
In a recent episode, Zeerak declared, “I love Zari so much and as much as I love Zari, I love her friends too.”
These are the types of lessons many families take for granted in Western countries where men and women are afforded equal respect and opportunities. But in Afghanistan, where the majority of girls don’t attend school, and the literacy rate among women in one of the lowest in the world, characters like Zeerak and Zari are seen as majorly progressive.
Baghch-e-SimSim is particularly influential in its nationwide reach. While television in Afghanistan is mainly restricted to urban areas, “Sesame Garden” is also broadcast on radio in both Pashtun and Dari, extending its audience to most of the country.
According to ABC, both Zari and Zeerak were created in New York. Their costumes, which consist of traditional Afghan clothing, feature fabrics and designs from all of Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups to promote unity in the war-torn society.
Ahmad Arubi, the producer of the local version of “Sesame Garden,” shared his hope that the new characters will eventually attract a wider Muslim audience that extends beyond Afghanistan.
“Possibly, in the coming years other Muslim countries, which are running this program, might use our characters, such as Zeerak and Zari. They might use our scripts, translate them in their own languages and use them in their countries,” he said.
(H/T: ABC News)