WEB DESK: In Pakistan, girls playing cricket on the streets or women having tea at dhabas is considered a cultural no-no.
That is why public spaces remain void of women.
But a few girls from Karachi initiated a campaign against this mind set of the society on social media called “Girls at Dhabas”. The movement has gained tremendous momentum and is expanding.
Saadia Khatri, a 25 year old, is the founder of this movement who has recently completed her education from from America and returned to Pakistan.
She said in an interview with BBC Urdu that women’s creative efforts are greatly affected due to the drastic difference in the environment of US and Pakistan.
“ When you return home from a foreign land, you are taken aback. When you are roaming around the streets you can’t spot females. I used to wander around the streets back in the US . I had great interest in exploring the city and taking part in creative activities that I can’t pursue here due to restrictions of the society,” Saadia said.
Saadia narrated that she used to visit dhabas with her friends on and off and discuss about the absence of women at such spots.
“ I have quite many male friends who have the habit of visiting dhabas as a part of their routine activities. One night I was sitting at a dhaba when one of my friends blurted out that put up a hashtag “Girls at Dhabas”. Let’s see what it turns into.”
Saadia said, this hashtag gained remarkable acceptance on social media and apart from her own friends, various other girls in Pakistan and India started uploading their pictures with the hashtag.
Saadia added, “ We started this hashtag for fun to see people’s reaction because often we used to hold discussions regarding the absence of women from public places and how it has become such a norm that people don’t even spare a thought for it.”
Saadia said that the acceptance of this hashtag resulted in girls’ meetings at dhabas and their cricket matches on streets.
“Quite a lot of girls said that “we have never been to dhabas before. If some one accompanies us to dhabas we ‘ll go.” So we decided that such girls might go if we accompany them. We arranged meetings at dhabas in Karachi and Lahore.”
While talking about cricket loving girls Saadia said, “Many girls are interested in cricket but due to cultural barriers they can’t openly play on the streets and lanes. So we arranged a cricket match that was attended by 25 girls.”
Saadia told that her friends stood by her through out the campaign.
She said that her friend Sara Nasir holds a stand, “ Not everyone is grounded in their houses. People travel from one place to another. My question is that why is it restricted only for men to stay out of the house?”
Saadia thinks that it would be wrong to label “Girls at Dhabas” as a campaign because only 20 girls are currently active in this movement.
She clarified the doubts of people who think that it’s a movement of elite class by saying that we invite ladies from all segments of the society.
She said , “Girls who are not a part of the movement speak against it but we are trying our level best to make this movement a collective representation and a platform to unify all women.”
Saadia Khatri and other girls from the movement are making efforts to set up a dhaba exclusively for women till next year March. The dhaba will be run by female staff . They need a fund of 10 thousand dollars for the purpose and are striving hard to collect it.
In regard to this Saadia said,”We think that the next step to this campaign is setting up a dhaba for women. We decided to set up a dhaba which is owned and operated fully by females so that they step out of their houses .In this way, women will appear at public places.”
She also cleared the air by saying that the aim of setting up a dhaba for women is not to spread discrimination or to create separate environments for both genders and so men will be allowed to visit the dhaba.