Loitering, Podcasting, Hashtagging: How #GirlsAtDhabas Is Reclaiming Public Spaces

For women, a world in which taking a walk alone at 2 A.M, or frequenting public spaces occupied by men, is still by large, an imaginary one.

To many, these are spaces of fear, which women access while regulating their own behaviour, for instance, curbing their own movements, or continually being on guard. But, it’s a reality that is now being challenged. Meet ‘Girls At Dhaba’, a platform by women, for women, to reclaim public spaces.

This Pakistan-based initiative was launched by Saadia Khatri (who had always felt surprised at the lack of women on the streets of Karachi) as a personal quest to question societal norms that dictate the behaviour of women in public. She posted a photograph with the hashtag #girlsatdhabas on Instagram and soon started a blog on Tumblr with the same name. Both her quest and her pictures resonated with many women in Pakistan and all over South Asia, and the movement gained momentum.

Similar to the book ‘Why Loiter’ and its community, the #girlsatdhabas pictures are selfies with a point to make: public places that were quintessentially male dominated are now occupied by women. The idea is not just to let women have access to public places but also to let them do it without any preconceived notion on how they should occupy them.

Girls At Dhabas encourages women to explore, loiter and just be themselves in public spaces. As a consequence, many women have shared pictures of themselves doing exactly that, to embolden other women too.

Image Credit: Girls At Dhabas
 Speaking to Kerosene Digital about challenges faced by the collective, Atiya Abbas, a member of the team, explains “Some of the challenges have been lots of signs ups but not a lot of attendance and the notion that we’re just privileged women doing things that women have always been doing. But as the city’s infrastructure has changed and other logistical issues have arisen, we have found it harder to navigate in public spaces which is why the need to do so is even greater.”

“There are never any challenges in execution despite the fact we do this voluntarily with no monetary rewards in it for us, but we have also rejected many corporations who have tried to make money off of our initiative because feminist ideology is never for sale and we hold that very dear.”

Indeed, despite the obstacles, the Girls At Dhabas community is quite active. For instance, they organize events to reclaim public spaces too. For instance, their ‘Girls On Bike’ rallies saw women ride their cycles on the roads of Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, astonishing and challenging conservative attitudes in society.

Image Credit: Girls At Dhabas

Another initiative that has definitely left its mark is their podcast titled ‘The Behenchara Diaries.’ The hosts discuss intersectionality, public space, and the issue of curtailing the movement of women in guise of promoting their safety amongst other topics.

Image Credit: Girls At Dhabas

The collective also partners with other initiatives and groups to spread their message. Atiya says “ We have collaborated with The Fearless Collective, Aahung, Bykea, Women of the World Festival, Pakistan Chowk Community Center, various school and universities who have invited us for talks.”

“The one thing that links all these is their commitment to creating a narrative within public spaces and talking about women’s mobility. In schools and universities, young women talk to us about parental restrictions and we always encourage them to start doing little things with friends to assert their freedom”, she continues. “ And so many of us have had instances where girls have told us of their own feminist journeys in Pakistan and how the page has been a huge influence for them in grounding their politics.”

So, what lies ahead for these Girls at Dhabas in the future? Our vision has always been to let it grow organically” Atiya explains. “Our members are studying and writing and are very committed to creating safe spaces for women and gender nonconforming people. We are envisioning self-defence training, motorbike riding lessons and eventually a community run dhaba – online and offline we have a lot of plans but we are taking it one thing at a time.”

A community-run dhaba is definitely something we’re looking forward to. To stay tuned to new #GirlsAtDhabas podcast episodes or events, read their blog, listen to their podcast and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Plus, they’ve also started Behenchara Corners in various cities as well as have pop up dhabas planned – details to be announced soon!

Written by Shreya Shashank

Image credit: Girls At Dhabas


  1. The most important for empowerment is being responsible for their own protection and independent in providing for themselves. Don’t exoect others to provide and protect you.


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