Afghani Sesame Street introduces its first female puppet on the block

Published April 10th, 2016 - 12:44 GMT
The Afghani version of Sesame Street has introduced a female puppet to promote girls' empowerment. (Instagram)
The Afghani version of Sesame Street has introduced a female puppet to promote girls' empowerment. (Instagram)

The Afghani Sesame Street puppets have a new neighbor moving in: Meet their new female friend "Zari," the latest addition to the show.

Zari - whose name means "shimmering" in Afghanistan's two official languages, Dari and Pashtu - has been added to the children's program to promote female empowerment in the war-torn country.

The Kabul producers felt that it was necessary to introduce a female character to "help overcome the endemic misogyny that is often excused as part of the country's cultural and religious heritage," reports AFP.

In addition, "Zari is a female because in Afghanistan we thought it was really important to emphasize the fact that a little girl could do as much as everybody else," said Clemence Quint, program manager for Lapis Communications, the Afghan partner of the Sesame Street Workshop, which has produced Sesame Street in New York since 1969.

Zari made her debut on Thursday on Season 5 of the popular production, and what a perfect timing it was, seeing as this season's themes are cultural identity and girl's empowerment. "So that is why a girl was a key factor in promoting girl's empowerment and girl's education in Afghanistan," Quint said.

Kids will get to watch the six-year-old girl puppet in two segments in each episode: In a solo segment and another "in which she interviews people from a wide range of backgrounds aiming to educate her young audience about such things as the importance of study, exercise and health," according to AP.

Made in New York, the puppet will appeal to the different ethnicities and cultures of Afghanistan - predominantly from Pashtoon, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara - thanks to her well-calculated look: She was made to have purple skin, an orange nose and will wear various outfits covering different regions in Afghanistan.

As for her multi-colored hair, well, Zari will cover it with a colored headscarf with her school uniform, which unlike that for girls across Afghanistan will not be black - because on Sesame Street, there is no black attire. "Otherwise the eternal pre-teen will be mostly bare-headed," writes AFP.

Quint said that Zari's "skin and hair were also designed to ensure that Zari cannot be identified with any specific ethnicity, but rather with all of them. Every Afghan can relate to Zari." 

But who's the woman behind this powerful puppet's voice?

Mansoora Shirzad, 20, who describes Zari as "sweet" and says that she "the new character will have a positive impact on our kids, will make the program interesting and will bring some new color to it, enabling us to convey the messages that our children need to know."

What about Zari?

"I am very happy to be here in Afghanistan," Shirzad said in her Zari voice. "It is a very good place, I have made a lot of friends, I enjoy myself a lot when I am with my friends in Baghch-e-Simsim."

You can watch Sesame Street - known as "Baghch-e-Simsim" in Afghanistan, which translates as Sesame Garden - every Thursday through Sunday at 4PM on Tolo TV, and every Thursday and Friday at 5PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:30PM on Lemar TV.

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