In a new video released by Pakistani channel Ary News, we see women drink chai, play board games and read books at a dhaba in Mauripur, Karachi. The dhaba caters only to women, and is also often host to vocational training. What it has done is provide a safe space away from conflict in the region, as well as created a community among its visitors.
Two years ago, feminist collective Girls at Dhabas had announced plans of creating Dhabas for Women. And in 2017, this “ladies dhaba” has become a reality, at least here in Karachi.
Getting a chai with your friend sounds like the most innocuous activity in the world, but for many women in vast parts of South Asia, the opportunity very often does not present itself.
There’s a bunch of reasons for this. From a young age, we are fed ideas like “akeli ladki khuli tijori“. Unlike our fathers, brothers, uncles, sons and nephews, we are actively discouraged from public spaces, because of the threat of harassment, robbery, rape and murder. It’s because of all this that you don’t normally see women at dhabas.
Dhabas are not like malls or shopping complexes, where a woman’s class identity and a thousand security cameras promise her at least a little bit of protection. They are exactly the sort of public space that “good girls” shouldn’t be at.
Of course, groups like Why Loiter in India and Girls at Dhabas in Pakistan are calling bullshit on all of this. Even as they encourage women to challenge the gendered demarcation of spaces, the ladies dhaba in Mauripur is making it a reality. And we hope to see more just like it come up all over South Asian cities!