(CNN) - Most, if not all, super heroes wear cloaks and masks to hide their identity. But how about a burqa?
A new cartoon series in Pakistan is turning stereotypes on their head. It's centered around a woman who doesn't wear a burqa in the daytime but puts one on to transform into the "Burka Avenger" – and what's more, she's fighting for female education.
The cartoon is already the talk of the country and it hasn't even launched yet. "Burka Avenger" is a passion project of Pakistani pop star, Haroon.
"It was in 2010 and I was reading a lot of articles about girls' schools being shut down by extremists so that was in my mind," he told CNN after I met him at his studio.
"Living in Pakistan, all theses issues are staring you in the face constantly. So when you're creating art, whether it be music or anything else like a cartoon TV series - you want to incorporate social messages. I feel it's my duty to try and make a positive difference."
School teacher by day, by night the Burka Avenger (spelled with a 'k') dons a special burqa to protect girls' schools, fighting the bad guys trying to shut them down.."The Burka Avenger is a character called Jiya, orphaned as a child, adopted by a Kabbadi master, who is a master of this mystic martial art that I created, called Takht Kabbadi - the art of fighting with books and pens. It gives the message of the importance of education and that the pen is mightier than the sword," Haroon says.
(CNN) - This summer marks the 41st anniversary of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that banned discrimination based on gender in federally funded education. "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," it states. Title IX is 37 words, and 41 years later, it continues to affect education opportunity, greater participation of women in athletics and equal opportunity in learning environments. Learn about the women who had a hand in and benefited from Title IX, and how it changed America.
By Ashley Fantz, CNN
(CNN) - A Pakistani teenager nearly killed by Taliban gunmen for advocating that all girls should have the right to go to school gave her first formal public remarks Friday at the United Nations. It also happened to be Malala Yousafzai's 16th birthday.
"Today, it is an honor for me to be speaking again after a long time," she said. "Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life."
She looked out at an audience of hundreds of children from around the world and U.N. members, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and told them that she was wearing a pink shawl that once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, the two-time prime minister of Pakistan who was killed in 2007 in a suicide attack at a political rally.
"I don't know where to begin my speech," she said. "I don't know what people would be expecting me to say. But first of all, thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and a new life. I cannot believe how much love people have shown me."
By Gordon Brown, Special for CNN
Editor's note: Gordon Brown is a United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education. He was formerly the UK's prime minister.
(CNN) - Today we can tell the remarkable story of Shazia Ramzan, a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl.
Last October Shazia was travelling home from school with her friend Malala Yousafzai when a Taliban gunman boarded their bus and shot both of them. Malala suffered head and facial injuries and had to be rushed to hospital in the UK. Shot in the neck and arm, Shazia spent a month in hospital while her deep wounds healed. Both were attacked by terrorists who wanted to stop girls going to school.
Shazia dreams of being a doctor. Fighting back from her injuries, she attempted to resume her schooling at home in the Swat Valley. So keen was she to return to school at the earliest opportunity that she ignored continuing threats to her life from the same Taliban terrorists who shot her and Malala.
For months she has had to be escorted to school each day by two armed guards. Her home has had to be protected by police. Sadly, the more that Shazia spoke up, the more the threats escalated, making it difficult for her and her family to remain secure.And in the past few weeks violence has escalated across Pakistan. A female teacher was gunned down in front of her young son as she drove into her all girls' schools. A school principal was killed and his pupils severely injured when a bomb was thrown into a school playground in an all-girls school in Karachi just as a prize giving ceremony began.
Only ten days ago, in a massacre which will long be remembered as the single worst terrorist assault on girls' education in recent years, the bus in which 40 female students were travelling from their all-girls college campus in Quetta was blown up by a suicide bomber. 14 girls were killed. So violent was the terrorist attack that another group followed the injured girls to hospital and opened fire on them again.
Despite the public revulsion against the violence, the attacks have continued. Only this weekend two schools were blown up, while another two girls were murdered for posting a video in which they were filmed dancing in the rain.
Editor's note: Tererai Trent is a humanitarian, scholar and speaker. She grew up in rural Zimbabwe, unable to attend school until Heifer International helped her get an education. She now has three degrees, and is founder of Tinogona Foundation.
(CNN) - Eight-year-old Tineyi takes my hand and leads me into her mud-thatched hut in my home village of Matau in rural Zimbabwe. There, in a dark corner of the room, is a wooden bookshelf. Carefully crafted by her father, it protects her word-filled treasures from the smoky fire inside the small hut where her mother cooks. I smile, knowing that her father has recognized the value these books will bring to his little bookworm - a life ahead of her with limitless opportunities.
It was not a life intended for many girls in Africa. As a cattle-herding tomboy, I was bound to follow in the footsteps of generations of women before me: early marriage, illiteracy and poverty. Back then, most kids in my village never had a chance to attend pre-school because it didn't exist. Instead, we would spend hours chasing birds and monkeys from our parents' fields.
That was more than 40 years ago.
Today, change is happening in my beloved Matau, and all across the long red dirt roads, verdant mountains and open blue skies of Africa. The leaders of African countries have made education more of a priority, even for girls. Now, girls can be role models. Girls like me, a cattle herder who married young, and by age 18 had three children and no high school diploma. But I defied the odds, got an education and came back to build a school.
Editor's note: Lauren E. Bohn is a multiplatform journalist and assistant editor of the Cairo Review whose reporting is made possible in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Qena, Egypt (CNN) - In a deserted playground a few hundred miles south of Cairo, 13-year-old Asmaa Ashraf fiddles with a broken rusted slide. She is waiting listlessly for a lesson with her math tutor.
The bright-eyed teenager lives in a sepia-toned village in the province of Qena, a place of rural poverty and neglect. But she has big dreams about education. She wants to open a school one day.
"At my school, we'll learn," she says, brushing her hands longingly over the slide. "Teachers will show up and we'll be allowed to ask questions. We'll be allowed to draw with color."
Such aspirations, however, amount to fantasy for most youth in a country still struggling to land on its feet after being turned completely upside down.
Two and a half years after the country's uprising began, Egypt's fledgling democracy is stillborn, stubbornly stuck between its past and future. And as the government struggles to wade through the country's protracted political problems, Egypt's festering education system is orphaned - even though, with a growing youth population, it's key to the country's future.
In the World Economic Forum's latest report on global competitiveness, Egypt ranked near the bottom - 131st out of 144 countries - for quality of primary education. Egypt's literacy rate is 66%, according to a 2011 United Nations report. Meanwhile, a report by London think tank Chatham House says just $129 a year is spent on each Egyptian student; the United States, for example, spends 40 times as much.
CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world.
(CNN) - What's the one thing you would tell girls about education?
Think carefully about your answer; after all, it can be the most important factor in lifting a girl from poverty, mistreatment and drudgery into a fulfilling and rewarding life, for both her and her family.
This is the question we asked people from around the world to share with us as part of the premiere of CNN Films' "Girl Rising," airing in June, which follows remarkable young girls from Peru to Afghanistan in their brave quest for an education.
CNN received dozens of responses, many from people sharing moving personal stories of their own struggles or those of mothers and grandmothers who had sacrificed so much so that future generations of girls would grow up enriched by knowledge.
'Never stop trying'
In a small town called Sivakasi in southern India, poverty and hardship meant many young girls would trudge every morning not to school but to work in the city's matchmaking and firework industries.
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(CNN) – Shweta Katti was raised in Mumbai's largest red-light district - the only place her family could afford to live. Men would sometimes ask her to sleep with them. But her mother always wanted her to learn to read and write, and Kranti, an organization that works with girls from Mumbai's red-light areas, helped her apply to college.
This fall, she's heading to Bard College in New York.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch it June 16 on CNN.
Detroit, Michigan (CNN) - A winter's thicket of weeds still choked the soil outside Catherine Ferguson Academy late last month when the old school's loudspeaker crackled on.
"Good morning, good morning, good morning," Principal Asenath Andrews belted out. "It's a bright, sunny, ready-to-garden day!"
For decades, this is where Detroit's pregnant teens and young mothers have come to earn their diplomas. It's the only school in the city that gives them space to study while their babies are cared for just down the hall.
For the 100 students at Catherine Ferguson, high school diplomas are the minimum expectation; college acceptance letters are the aim. It has a reputation for academic rigor and comprehensive study: Students might spend afternoons on internships, weeks traveling overseas and hours working small plots on the school's farm.
On the walls, there are posters encouraging condom use, photos of newborns and beaming images of Catherine Ferguson graduates, all in their gowns, caps and tassels.
"Remember," Andrews signs off her morning announcement, "smart is what you get, not what you are."
Girls trickle outside, grumbling about the heat and mess of the farm, but intrigued by the seedlings of basil, arugula and cabbage. They fling handfuls of dirt at each other as they paw through a season of overgrowth. Over the years, the school's abandoned playground evolved into a spread of apple trees, honeybees, chickens, goats and garden plots - creatures and greenery tended to by students and a pack of volunteers.
CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch June 16 on CNN
By Betsy Anderson, CNN
(CNN) – Eulalia goes to school on a motorcycle.
The 10-year-old girl lives in the Puno region of Peru with her parents and six siblings. There is no school near Eulalia's home, so on Mondays, her father gives her a ride down the mountain on his motorcycle to a boarding school run by the humanitarian organization CARE. She attends school during the week and comes home on the weekends.
For Eulalia, this ride to school is a journey into a promising future that is hard to come by in Peru. She is one of nearly a million indigenous children who struggle to get an education.
According to CARE, 73% of indigenous kids in Peru are behind in school for their age and nearly 30% don't go to school at all. Most people in the Puno region live in poverty and parents have no choice but to have their children work to help support the family. Child labor is often used for illegal gold mining in the area.
Eulalia's father is a poor alpaca shepherd, but he wants his daughter to have a better education than he had and he has made it a priority. The school doesn't charge Eulalia's family for school fees, but her parents try to contribute in other ways such as with crops or labor. Soon, her little brother will also be attending the school.