These Muppet Siblings Are Trying To Change The Conversation About Gender Equality In Afghanistan

This new face could improve literacy rates in Afghanistan, especially for girls.

About a week after the Sesame Street Twitter account shared sweet and inclusive message to mark the end of Pride Month, Afghanistan's version of the popular educational television show for children (called Baghch-e-Simsim) debuted a new muppet named Zeerak. According to AFP, Zeerak, which means "smart" in Dari and Pashto — Afghanistan's two official languages — was brought on to spread and emphasize the importance of women's education. 

Like many of the other muppets on Baghch-e-Simsim, Zeerak wears traditional Afghan clothing. He also sports glasses, and looks up to his older, educated sister, Zari, who made her debut on the show last year.



In adding Zeerak to the cast, the hope is that children will learn to respect women and understand the importance of women's education in a nation that has typically undervalued it. Massood Sanjer, head of Baghch-e-Simsim's network, Tolo TV, feels introducing a boy who loves and wishes to emulate his school-going, older sibling, will "indirectly teach the kids to love their sisters."

This lesson is especially crucial in a gender-segregated nation such as Afghanistan, a country that also happens to have one of the lowest literacy rates in the world in part because it is still recovering from the Taliban's repressive regime. 

UNESCO reports only 31 percent of the adult population (those over the age of 15) is literate, and that worsens based on geography and gender. While male literacy rates average around 45 percent, female literacy rates hover near 17 percent, though both have high variation.  

Still, if the country hopes to effect real change, Baghch-e-Simsim is an excellent place to start. Much like Sesame Street in America, Baghch-e-Simsim has a wide reach in Afghanistan. According to AFP, a recent survey found around 80 percent of children and parents with access to television watch the show.

Sesame Street and shows around the world much like it have long strived to teach youngsters through inclusivity. In March 2017, American viewers were introduced to Julia, Sesame Street's first character with autism. "It's really meaningful to see her there, singing with Elmo, Big Bird, and all the other characters," Rose Jochum, director of internal initiatives at the Autism Society of America said at the time.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that produces Sesame Street, has also made a point of addressing the worldwide refugee crisis in recent months. In addition to visiting refugee camps in Jordan, Sesame Workshop filmed a video back in September 2016 explaining what refugees are. The video featured Grover in conversation with the U.S. State Department's Deputy Secretary, Tony Blinken.

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