Women In Pakistan Are Subverting The Patriarchy With Social Media And Tea

Being a woman in Pakistan is not easy. And no, that’s not some trite joke: A study from sexual and reproductive health and rights organization, Rutgers, found that, out of 4,513 Pakistani women surveyed, 75 percent had experienced physical violence while 66 percent had been victims of sexual violence. And that’s just in the home. On the streets, women are often subjected to Eve teasing — from catcalling to sexually suggestive propositioning to groping.

It’s this threat of street harassment that keeps women inside, 24-year-old Sadia Khatri told Vice reporter Kat Lister. Khatri is the mind behind the Tumblr site Girls at Dhabas, which started in April this year as a simple hashtag when she was eating with a friend at a roadside tea shop (called a “dhaba” in Pakistan and India) and noticed she was the only woman there. She posted a picture of herself with the hashtag #GirlsAtDhabas, just to see what would happen.

What’s happened? Khatri has become the voice of a movement to encourage Pakistani women to come out of their homes and challenge the unspoken social norm of dhabas being for men, by men. As she told Lister over Skype, “We’re not encouraging women to put themselves in unsafe situations, we’re just saying this is your city, too, and there are ways you can claim it… If you see more women in a space visually, then hopefully you’ll feel safer, more encouraged and more comfortable.”

Now, Khatri’s hashtag is changing: #GirlsAtDhabas has morphed into #DhabaForWomen. Because now, they’re not just satisfied with claiming public space—they want to own it, too. As the pitch on the official Indiegogo campaign site reads:

We want to make a small dent in Karachi’s male-dominated public space by setting up a dhaba (roadside tea-stall) within the next year — a pocket of oxygen that is inclusive, safe and welcoming for women and minorities who just want to chill on the streets and have a (cheap) cup of chai.

The model they’re looking to in the venture is Hyderabad’s Khanabadosh Writer’s Café, a women-owned dhaba that offers social activities such as film screenings for their female clientele — activities that many men in Pakistan take for granted.

Want to cry “Eff the patriarchy!” alongside Khatri and her feminist friends? The Indiegogo campaign runs for the next 20 days. They’ve raised $2,849 already, but still need a good push to get them to their $10,000 goal.