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.
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:
What a fantastic day yesterday. We had 70 riders in Islamabad, another 70 in Lahore and 30 in Karachi #GirlsOnBikes pic.twitter.com/GrQb5Ad2UB
— Girls at Dhabas (@girlsatdhabas) April 2, 2018
Posters with slogans such as “Two-Tyred of Patriarchy” and “Pedal 2 Fight Patriarchy” were seen. Showbiz and News tweeted:
Swipe through to check out #GirlsOnBikes take to the streets as they reclaim public spaces and normalise girls riding bicycles. Kudos to all the ladies who came out to support the initiative. pic.twitter.com/3vD31Avhn8
— Showbiz & News (@ShowbizAndNewz) April 1, 2018
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:
I hope the #GirlsOnBikes rally helps normalise women on bikes in Pakistan. I felt like I saw areas of my city for the first time. It was a dream to be able to bike on the roads I commute on daily in cars or rickshaws. And again, shout out to the sisterhood for sticking together?
— disco spider (@Rameezay) April 1, 2018
Benje Williams, the CEO of Amal Academy tweeted:
“may we ride past the pointing and the stares, beyond life’s speed breakers and slow lanes, through its middle and fast lanes, on to the overpasses and towards infinity and beyond” #girlsonbikes #lahore pic.twitter.com/JD07Brosbh
— benje williams (@benjewilliams) April 1, 2018
Singer Meesha Shafi tweeted:
What a liberating Sunday it was, riding with these warriors through the very streets where I have been groped, harassed, cat called and stared at in the past! Guess what guys, your #TimesUp !!! #girlsonbikes #reclaimpublicspaces kudos to @girlsondhabas for 3rd annual rally! pic.twitter.com/LDLTpf63jQ
— Meesha Shafi (@itsmeeshashafi) April 2, 2018
There are many encouraging images of the participants, from young to old, in different Pakistani cities on the Girls At Dhabas Facebook Page:
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:
This new trend #girlsonbikes is smh. Our generation is becoming so busy trying to prove that Women can do everything a man can do that Women are losing their uniqueness. Women weren't created to do everything a man can do. Women were created to do everything a man can not do.
— Momina Khan (@Mominaaa123) April 1, 2018
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.
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.