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#GirlsAtDhabas reclaiming public spaces for women

Updated Nov 03, 2015 09:34am


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ISLAMABAD: In an effort to reclaim public spaces and narratives for women, the feminist collective #GirlsAtDhabas and the Awami Workers Party (AWP) held an open-air public dialogue on Monday.

The discussion, titled ‘Women and Public Space in Pakistan’ was held in a public park in Sector F-7 and was attended by a few dozen men and women from all walks of life.

Conducted in cosy environs with the participants seated on jute mats or the cool grass, the dialogue featured discussions about the various forms of harassment and discrimination that women have to face in the public sphere.

Sadia Khatri, a visiting #GirlsAtDhabas activist from Karachi, began the discussion by talking about the impetus for the dialogue.

“In our society, most violence against women happens in the home. But we are told that the streets are unsafe for us, whereas this is not true,” she said.

Saying that this was not just the problem of a particular class, she emphasised the need to mobilise women and ensure that they became a vibrant part of public life.

“Here, it’s as if men and women inhabit two different worlds, and the struggles of one have nothing in common with the other,” she said.

But cognisant of the ambitious nature of the task she had taken upon herself, Ms Khatri summed up her ambitions quite succinctly when she told a reporter, “This isn’t a mainstream movement at all,” indicating that there was a long way yet to go.

Maria Patel, an alumnus of Karachi University, spoke out about the incident at her alma mater, where members of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) had disrupted a mixed gender game of cricket earlier in the day.

She said that women were often caught up in the violence perpetrated by the Jamiat and said that there had been a marked change in attitudes towards women at the varsity.

She also complained about the woman-specific discrimination in the job-market and related a story where a woman was asked about her marriage plans during a job interview. “Why is this question only asked of women, why not men?”

“Whenever I have tea at a dhaba, I’ve never even thought that it is exclusively ‘a man’s space’,” Ms Patel said.

Another participant tore into conventional wisdom regarding marriage, saying, “You can either get married and free yourself, or get divorced and stay cooped up at home.”

AWP’s Ammar Rashid pointed out that discussions about the role that women should play in society were a necessarily political issue, rather than a social one. He also said that it was incumbent upon all individuals to call out misogyny and institutional discrimination wherever they saw it.

Other speakers, including residents of the French Colony and women candidates for the upcoming LG elections, also highlighted the issues they faced in the public sphere.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2015

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Comments (20) Closed

khanm Nov 03, 2015 09:54am

and was attended by a few dozen men and women from all walks of life.... no wonder why thing don't get done in Pakistan... lack of public interest...Well at least they put in an efforts...They may then be willing to cast principled votes based on an educated understanding of the public interest in the face of polls suggesting that the public itself may have quite a different understanding of where its interest lies.

Pahari Nov 03, 2015 10:05am

Nobody will stop you if you are allowed from home

Hassan Nov 03, 2015 11:38am

@Pahari So even at home, woman needs permission from a man. The vicious Patriarchy circle lives on.

AFZAL Nov 03, 2015 12:29pm


It is not vicious! It is a matter of mutual respect of course with reasonable and understanding, considerate individuals. Moreover, even in present times in our society the male is the head of the family and should be consulted on subjects of general interest within the family.

PEACE-LOVER Nov 03, 2015 01:03pm

@AFZAL That's the thought process that needs to change in the patriarchal society of south Asia. Let me remind you that one of the reasons of China's success is the huge number of educated women.

GB Nov 03, 2015 01:16pm

Acceptable for a man to sit with his girl friend and roam around a park but if finds his sister doing the same begins the ghairat show. Life is hard for women in this country. Under the garb of honour and family values, vicious crimes are being committed by the civilized, educated, ghairat mand men of this country.

Naveed Nov 03, 2015 01:23pm

@Hassan : What is so bad and vicious about it.

timetostopthis Nov 03, 2015 02:14pm

@GB Honour and family value laws only apply to the women in this country. Men have no such restrictions imposed on them. Talk about double standards in this male dominated society.

timetostopthis Nov 03, 2015 02:15pm

The meeting was attended by a few dozen men and women in a country of 180 million people. The impact of this meeting is obviously going to be zero considering the participation of the people concerned.

Realist Nov 03, 2015 02:56pm

Meeting arranged and attended by English speaking elites of Islamabad who live in their own cocoons.

Ayesha Nov 03, 2015 03:03pm

@AFZAL With all due respect, I disagree with your opinion.

Mahmood Nov 03, 2015 03:10pm

"In our society, most violence against women happens in the home. But we are told that the streets are unsafe for us, whereas this is not true." If I understood collectively the streets are safe for women; I don't think that's the case in our country except maybe for some big cities in Punjab. Also, why are we making our environment safe for women so that they can pursue the noble cause of sipping tea in dhabas??? Go for a worthier cause and you'll get the right support.

Ayesha Nov 03, 2015 03:11pm

it's just a matter of men's domination in society. Hypocritical Society.

illmatic Nov 03, 2015 03:49pm

our insecurity and hypocrisy knows no bounds. as a means of feeling powerful men in our society dominate the family after getting married, treating their wives like second tier people, just so they can feel self worth.

Asif Nov 03, 2015 04:51pm

Girls don't try to be so over embiteous. Be respectable to your husband & parents. Thank you!!!

Shazia Bangash Nov 03, 2015 05:06pm

What a horrible message this #WomenAtDhabas is sending to the world. It makes it seem that our country is in such bad shape that someone having tea at the roadside is testing the limits of tolerance! The reality is that women from far flung areas are part of the cricket team where they have defeated the World Cup winning England team last year, a rural woman has climbed Mount Everest, Benazir has served as PM twice, Fatima Jinnah narrowly lost the presidential elections in 1965 when such a thing was unthinkable in the West, and women are serving at top positions in local and multinational corporations in Pakistan. The list of achievements is unlimited and, as for drinking roadside tea, University girls in the cities have been doing just that for decades.

AFZAL Nov 03, 2015 05:39pm

@PEACE-LOVER If you read my text it suggests "consulted" and not to get dictated! As a matter of fact more than 95% of my family female members have done up to MA/Msc/PhD. And we do consult each other frequently. We do not need any example of China or other countries.

AFZAL Nov 03, 2015 05:41pm

@Ayesha Same goes for you. See my reply to Peace-Lover.

Xyz Nov 03, 2015 06:33pm

@AFZAL consultation should be mutual. Married couples need to work with each other and be mutually accommodating without one trying exert superiority over the other. Then there are single women and single men.... Problem is often they are treated very differently at home and often brothers consider it their right to control their sisters, and that is where we start going wrong.

BNS Nov 04, 2015 03:20am

Good initiative. However the unfortunate part is that such an environment has been created that women are afraid of even talking about their rights and free will. This was a meeting supposed to have been attended by more women than men so they can show their intention to reclaim their lost share in public space. But their lack of interest or fear of repercussions demonstrates the strong male dominant nature of this society.