Global Voices

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

"We wish to encourage each other to participate in this collective movement to assert our right to navigate public spaces on our own terms."

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.

Originally published in Global Voices.

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