New Muppet Advocates For Gender Equality

Posted by Emma Brownstein
(@Emma Brownstein)

meet zeerak
Photo by: Today’s Parent

The New Kid In Town

There’s a new muppet on Sesame Street — more specifically on Afghanistan’s version, “Baghch-e-Simsim.” Zeerak, a four-year-old boy, will debut in the sixth season of the program. He is the younger brother of Zari, a beloved character who is a six-year-old girl that promotes academic curiosity and gender equality.

Adorable, energetic, and regionally dressed, Zeerak is expected to become a role model for young viewers and a childhood icon.

Photo by: Muppet Wiki

Smart and Talented

Zeerak, means “smart” and “talented” in Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan’s two official languages, which is fitting. Following in his sister’s footsteps, Zeerak’s purpose is largely to promote gender equity in education. “As a young boy who aspires to go to school with his sister when he gets older, Zeerak can be a strong role model for children in a country where over 60% of children — two thirds of them girls — are not able to complete school,” Sesame Workshop said about Zeerak.

Zeerak will be featured in segments that illustrate what it means to be a feminist for young boys. By admiring the intellect of his sister and her friends and wanting to be just like them when he grows up, Zeerak will help inform the youngest generation about feminism in the male-dominated country. “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,” said the head of TOLO TV, which broadcasts Baghch-e-Simsim, Massood Sanjer.

zeerak and zari
Photo by: CNN

In Afghanistan

While Afghanistan has progressed significantly since the Taliban implemented educational policies that banned female education in the 90’s, the nation has some of the most dire female educational statistics in the world. Only 14% of girls are literate. Only 21% make it to secondary school, which is half of the 42% of males that further their education. Many girls are forced to drop out because is marital expectations or attacks by anti-government insurgents.

Characters like Zeerak and Zari may not fix the entirety of the nation’s educational struggles, but they will reinforce positive associations with school, especially for girls. “We know children learn best when they can identify with characters, and research shows that Zari has been a powerful role model for boys and girls alike. The debut of Zeerak builds on the incredible impact we’ve seen Zari achieve over the past year,” said Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy of Sesame Workshop.

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