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#GirlsOnBikes: Women Ride Bicycles To Reclaim Public Spaces in Pakistan

Girls on Bikes reclaiming public space. Image by Hasan Haidar via Girls At Dhabas Facebook page. Used with permission.

On April 1, 2018, a bicycle rally was organized in major cities of Pakistan (Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi) by prominent Pakistani feminist collective Girls at Dhabas. The ‘Girls On Bikes’ Rally was their third annual event to promote female participation in public events, fight restrictions faced by women in public places and increase awareness about issues faced by women.

Read more: Pakistani Women Are Reclaiming Public Spaces, One Teacup at a Time

In May 2015, two Karachi-based girls, Sadia Khatri and Natasha Ansari, started using the hashtag #GirlsAtDhabas as a space to curate photos of women on Tumblr. The hashtag went viral when hundreds of women across South Asia began sharing photos of themselves at dhabas (roadside cafes) on Twitter and Tumblr, launching a conversation about safe spaces for women. After this, the collective was born.

“Girls on Bikes Rally” poster by Girls at Dhabas. Image from the group's Facebook event page

On the event page from this year's Bike Rally, Girls At Dhabas mentioned:

Through this annual event, we aim to challenge the existing mindset that it is inappropriate for a female or a gender non-conforming person to be out and about on her own. We wish to encourage each other to participate in this collective movement to assert our right to navigate public spaces on our own terms.

Several women were seen rallying on the streets of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad with slogans against patriarchy and inequality. Girls at Dhabas tweeted:

Posters with slogans such as “Two-Tyred of Patriarchy” and “Pedal 2 Fight Patriarchy” were seen. Showbiz and News tweeted:

Soon, people expressed their views with the hashtag #GirlsOnBikes, making it a trend on social media. Concerned about the future of women in public spaces, a netizen tweeted in support:

Benje Williams, the CEO of Amal Academy tweeted:

Singer Meesha Shafi tweeted:

There are many encouraging images of the participants, from young to old, in different Pakistani cities on the Girls At Dhabas Facebook Page:

Cyclists of all ages riding in solidarity via Girls at Dhabas Facebook page. Used with Permission.

In Islamabad, Pakistan via Girls at Dhabas Facebook page. Used with Permission.

In Lahore, Pakistan via Girls at Dhabas Facebook page. Used with Permission.

The rally also received criticism from some social media users who believe in defined gender roles and declared the rally a Western trend. Momina Khan tweeted:

Read more: Aurat March (Women March) Marks Resistance Against Misogyny in Pakistan

Pakistan is a patriarchal country where public spaces are not seen as a place for women. The stereotype that it is inappropriate for women to occupy public spaces is still a widely held belief in the country. However, as we can see from the ‘Girl on Bikes’ rally, movements that demand the opportunity to occupy public spaces and also attain equal social, political, economic and reproductive rights are beginning to gain traction.

2 comments

  • this needs to be stopped right now because we know what their real motives
    behind this so called women empowerment programs its women empowerment it was the complete destruction of women those who promote these kind of movements knows very well that muslims have a weak point which is women if women will exploited then it will destroys the family system
    which results the total destruction of pakistan i have been watching these movements very closely and in there countries they promotes child marriages
    from 2000 to 2017 more then 200000 child marriges were held and in our countries they organizations tells the women should not be married in early age while in usa they forcefully held child marriges their hypocrisy have no end.

  • we are well aware what usa needs from pakistan and i tell you they will not be able to achieve their demonic goals this women empowerment is just a front banner but what is behind its back is extremely terrifying.

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