Girls at Dhabas

First Submitted By sarahmun

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher

General Issues
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Identity & Diversity
Specific Topics
Gender Equality & Equity
Human Rights
Direct Action
Digital/New Technologies
Scope of Influence
Start Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of private organizations
Social mobilization
Civil society building
Spectrum of Public Participation
Not applicable or not relevant
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Targeted Demographics
Racial/Ethnic Groups
General Types of Methods
Community development, organizing, and mobilization
Informal conversation spaces
General Types of Tools/Techniques
Inform, educate and/or raise awareness
Specific Methods, Tools & Techniques
Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)
Informal Participation
Social Media
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Informal Social Activities
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Information & Learning Resources
Not Relevant to this Type of Initiative
Decision Methods
Not Applicable
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
New Media
Artistic Expression
Protests/Public Demonstrations
Type of Organizer/Manager
Activist Network
Type of Funder
Not Applicable
Evidence of Impact
Types of Change
Changes in people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior
Changes in civic capacities
Implementers of Change
Lay Public
Formal Evaluation

Girls at Dhabas is a grassroots initiative of Pakistani women and non-binary individuals committed to challenging restrictive social norms and threats of gendered violence through individual and collective acts of protest.

Problems and Purpose

The aim of the Girls at Dhabas initiative is simple: reclaim public space for women and challenge the gendered constrictions on loitering.[1] In Pakistan, public space is occupied by a severely disproportionate number of men, with little visibility of women. By posting pictures of themselves with other women/non-binary people or by themselves, participants are challenging these social constraints and taboos. Social media has helped amplify and coalesce the voices and actions of a dispersed and decentralized collective of women and non-binary individuals into a powerful message of resistance.[2] 

Background History and Context

Girls at Dhabas began when Sadia Khatri posted a photo on Instagram of her drinking chai at a local dhaba in Karachi and hashtagged it #girlsatdhabas. Inspired by the response on social media, Sadia and her friend, Sabahat Zakariya created a Tumblr called “girlsatdhabas” where they curate photo submissions of South Asian women drinking chai at Dhabas in India, and Pakistan. Traditionally, Dhabas are roadside restaurants or cafes in South Asia, which usually serve as truck stops, and serve chai and Punjabi food. They are mostly frequented by men, and rarely, some women when accompanied by a male relative. Due to security concerns, gendered social norms constricting interaction between women and non-related men, social stigma around women in public spaces and threats of sexual harassment and rape, women’s mobility in public spaces in Pakistan is severely restricted. Such constraints also threaten a women’s decision to participate and engage in education, the labour force and other activities outside the household that require transportation and moving through public spaces without the accompaniment of a man.[3]

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

Girls at Dhabas began as a mostly social-media based grassroots initiative with no official source of funding or affiliation with government or NGO organizations. The initiative grew organically out of an initial Instagram of Sadia Khatri drinking chai unaccompanied in Karachi. Over time, the movement has grown into a "collective of feminists" who support and participate in various initiatives - organized, organic, or decentralized. Their website and social media pages are now run by at least 10 girls form Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi who also plan events and coordinate across cities, with different organizations on raising awareness on women’s freedom of mobility.[4] 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Open to all marginalized members of Pakistani society, with middle-class women in their 20s-30s as most regular contributors. Women from all over South Asia are also beginning to participate and submit entries onto the website.[5]

Methods and Tools Used

At its heart, Girls at Dhabas is a protest movement, using online and offline community mobilization tactics and organized resistance.[6] In the beginning, participants in this decentralized movement used the Girls at Dhabas online website or Tumblr to post pictures of themselves drinking chai with other women or by themselves. The collective now supports and sometimes organizes more formal forms of protest such as bicycling, in-person demonstrations, sit-ins, and even 'street cricket' - the country's most popular pastime. Using their website and social media pages, the collective and its members also plan meet-ups and dialogues. They are also committed to public engagement, education and information sharing. All of their activities and methods of participation are focused on the betterment of women's inclusion, equality, empowerment, and safety in the Pakistani society.[7] 

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The first and founding initiative of Ghirls at Dhaba's saw participants post basic blog entries to the Girls at Dhaba online website or on Tumblr of them drinking chai at 'dhabas' with other girlfriends or alone without a male companions all over South Asia and hashtag it #girlsatdhaba. The entries are then curated and published by the founders.[8]

Beyond posting, curating and moderating online content on feminism, human rights and freedom of expression in Pakistan, the Girls at Dhaba founders also host and organize other events such as Behenchara Corner, Sleep-ins at parks, demonstrations. All events center in on the demand for making public spaces safer and more inclusive for all, facilitating dialogue on social issues, and consciousness-raising as forms of community development. The Behenchara Corner is a stall they setup at local events like the Women of the World Festival in Karachi, where participants are invited to share chai, to talk and to listen. According to the Girls at Dhabas founders, “A cup of chai can do a lot. It can facilitate an hour long conversation, it can spark new friendships, it can break assumptions. Making more than one cup of chai is an act of kindness and community building.” Other events organized include Dhaba Hop!, Girls on Bikes, Vigil for Qandeel Baloch, Monday Mehfil (sharing poetry and art together at dhaba), Meet to Sleep (sleep-in at park), and "Log kya kahein gay?" (forum on rape culture at a local park). Most events of the project invite local women to get together in a visible public space and share stories, art and dialogue on gender justice over chai.[9]

Outcomes, Influence, and Effect

The initiative was founded in 2015 is now gaining support from all over Pakistan. Girls at Dhabas has also established solidarity and coalitional support from across the border with the Indian campaign of Why Loiter? The initiative is growing to introduce other reclamation of space activities such as Girls in Parks, where South Asian women coordinate with each other to commit to sleeping overnight in a park. Though such activities seem small or given in the West, in Pakistan, for a woman to sleep at a park, to drink chai at a dhaba, or to loiter in the streets and smoke a cigarette is an act of resistance. Finally, the initiative is also a call making visible street harassment, and framing it as a human rights violation in Pakistan.[10]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Though the founders are hesitant to call their initiative a social movement, they do affirm it as a moment of ownership, empowerment and awareness. When a woman takes a selfie of herself in a public space where she is not allowed entry by social norms, or in fear of “what will people think?” she performs an act of ownership over the space by taking a picture. The founders believe that social media is an extension of public space, and when women see other women appearing in such spaces drinking chai, they are more likely to also go to such spaces and drink chai. There is a deep symbolic value of having a public space to meet with other women and discuss issue over chai, in Pakistani history, revolutions have been discussed over chai. However, the collective is quick to acknowledge that their movement and tactics are still class-privileged and do not yet meaningfully engage with other intersections of oppression in Pakistan, such as other marginalized members of society restricted from access to public spaces.[11]

See Also


Social Media  


[1] Imaan Sheikh, “Here's Why South Asian Women Are Uploading Photos Of Themselves At Dhabas,” BuzzFeed, August 10, 2015,

[2] Natasha Ansari, “Girls at Dhabas: challenging issues of safety, or ‘respectability’ in urban Pakistan?,” openDemocracy, April 27, 2018,

[3] Wajahat S. Khan, “#GirlsatDhabas: How Eating In Public Became a Thing in Pakistan,” NBC News, October 4, 2015,

[4] Afshan Shafi, “Spotlight: Girls at Dhabas,” The Missing Slate, March 24, 2016,

[5] Girls at Dhabas,

[6] Natasha Ansari, “Girls at Dhabas: challenging issues of safety, or ‘respectability’ in urban Pakistan?,” openDemocracy, April 27, 2018,

[7] Girls at Dhabas,

[8] Imaan Sheikh, “Here's Why South Asian Women Are Uploading Photos Of Themselves At Dhabas,” BuzzFeed, August 10, 2015,

[9] Girls at Dhabas,

[10] Natasha Ansari, “Girls at Dhabas: challenging issues of safety, or ‘respectability’ in urban Pakistan?,” openDemocracy, April 27, 2018,

[11] Afshan Shafi, “Spotlight: Girls at Dhabas,” The Missing Slate, March 24, 2016,

External Links

Facebook Page 

Official Website 



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