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Afghan 'Sesame Street' gains first homegrown female Muppet

A female puppet sporting a headscarf with a school uniform has become the first Afghan Muppet to join the cast of "Sesame Street." The lively character is set to empower girls on the country's popular children's show.

The country's first indigenous Sesame Street puppet is a six-year-old girl with multicolored yarn hair and a broad range of outfits to appeal to Afghanistan's diverse ethnicities and cultures.

"The exciting part about Zari is that she is modeling for young girls that it is wonderful to go to school and that it's ok to dream about having a career," Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop's executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy, told news agency Reuters.

"It's so powerful that the first Afghan Muppet is a girl," Westin added.

Although many of the show's characters are purposefully non-gender specific, producers in Kabul said they felt it was important to make Afghanistan's first Muppet a girl to help overcome endemic misogyny within the country.

Sesame Street's new Afghan character, Zari, interacts with a little girl

Zari's mission is to empower girls in Afghanistan, one viewer at a time

Every season of Sesame Street has at least one overarching theme which is selected by producers in New York. This season's themes for Sesame Street focus on cultural identity as well as female empowerment.

"So that is why a girl was a key factor in promoting girl's empowerment and girl's education in Afghanistan," said Clemence Quint, program manager for Lapis Communications, which is the Afghan partner of the Sesame Street Workshop.

Quint added that the show has "the highest awareness among children's television shows in Afghanistan, at 86 percent, and is cited by primary caregivers as children's favorite program by far."

Zari will have two segments in each show - one alone and one where she interviews people from different backgrounds to emphasize the importance of fitness and education.

Multicultural Muppets

Zari is the latest in Sesame Street's international character lineup, which includes Muppets in Russia, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Germany. The homegrown puppets have separate segments in their own country's national program.

In South Africa, a yellow, spunky Muppet named Kami has been working to tear down stereotypes around HIV and AIDS. The character, who debuted in 2002, is an asymptomatic HIV-positive five-year-old girl who lost her mother to AIDS.

Egypt's famous girl power character is a peach-colored puppet named Khokha, who aspires to be an engineer, a doctor and a lawyer.

India's version of Sesame Street, called "Gali Gali Sim Sim," boasts a host of indigenous Indian characters, including Chamki, a curious and lively five-year-old girl with an appetite for reading.

"Jalan Sesama" in Indonesia contains an orangutan, a Mohawk-adorned baby rhino, and Momon and Putri, a boy and girl who set out to break down gender stereotypes.

rs/ rc (AP, Reuters)

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