Afghanistan is a male-dominated country — not an easy place to be born female. So the country's Sesame Street show, Baghch-e-Simsim, recently decided to create a new Muppet, Zeerak, to encourage respect for women and girls.
Zeerak, a bespectacled orange guy with a mop of multicolor hair, is pretty darn cute. His clothing is a mix of designs traditionally worn by different cultural groups of Afghanistan.
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"Zeerak is an energetic & eager 4-year-old who looks up to his big sister Zari! He can’t wait to go to school with his sister when he gets older. Welcome Zeerak!" Sesame Street introduced him on its Instagram page.
In Afghanistan, less than 40 percent of children finish school, and two-thirds of those who don't finish are girls. So Zeerak is a welcome addition to the Sesame Street lineup. According to a press release from Sesame Workshop, "Zeerak, which means 'smart' and 'talented' in both Dari and Pashto, will be featured in segments that tackle topics including tolerance, respect, and gender equity." YASSS, ZEERAK!
Zeerak will also be promoting the importance of education to Afghan children. One episode shows Zeerak happily greeting his big sister Zari when she returns home from school. She explains to her adoring little brother why school and career goals are so valuable — and exciting! — and Zeerak happily takes it all in.
Zeerak says, "I love Zari so much and as much as I love Zari, I love her friends too." This may not seem like groundbreaking dialogue in the U.S., but for Afghanistan TV, this is major progress: a boy who admires and looks up to his sister and her girlfriends.
"In a male-dominant country like Afghanistan, I think you have to do some lessons for the males to respect the females," the head of the show's Afghanistan broadcaster TOLO TV, Massood Sanjer, said of Zeerak. "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."
Welcome, Zeerak. We're all very happy you're here.