Dozens of women took part in female-only bike races in major cities across the country on Sunday, as part of an event organised by a group called ‘Girls at Dhabas’ to challenge what they termed “the male dominance of public spaces in the country”.
“Our strategy is simply to be visible in public spaces,” said Meher Bano of Girls at Dhabas, a group which organised the races after a woman from Lahore was pushed off her bicycle by a group of men last year for not responding to catcalls.
The bike race was one of many events organised in the last few years by Girls at Dhabas to promote female participation in public events, fight restrictions faced by women in public places and increase awareness.
“I drive on these roads all the time but this was maybe the first time I got to experience them while biking,” said Humay Waseem, one of the riders on the 5-kilometre race around Islamabad. “I loved the feeling of freedom with the breeze in my hair.”
Members of Girls at Dhabas say they are a new generation of Pakistanis determined to build on progress made by their predecessors. “The women’s movement is as old as Pakistan but it is not something that is really talked about or written about,” said Bano.
“It’s part of a much greater narrative that leads to harassment, it leads to violence,” she said.
After the race in Islamabad on Sunday, the riders, mostly aged in their 20s, swapped stories about being gawped at or catcalled when they go out. They also talked of the need to fight growing conservatism on Pakistan’s streets, saying there are fewer women out in public today than 20 years ago.
“We are letting that space go and society is getting more narrow-minded,” said one of riders.