By Maya Palit
The ever-illustrious Girls at Dhabas, the Pakistani feminist group that last month started a podcast about women in public spaces, just organised their annual all-women bike rallies in cities across Pakistan together with folks from the Why Loiter campaign. On Sunday, grandmas, sisters, and comrades were invited to bike for five kilometres through the cities of Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi, and later, to participate in a discussion about navigating public spaces and loitering as a woman.
According to Reuters interviews with some of the women participants and organisers, the need to support the presence of women on streets is particularly urgent today, because the space for women in public is shrinking due to ‘increased conservatism’ compared to 20 years ago, and relinquishing that space is just not an option. That doesn’t sound too different from the time that Girls at Dhabas kicked off their blog about women drinking chai and chilling at dhabas, when the founder, Sadia Khatri, said “It isn’t that there aren’t women on the streets – even then, the ratio is close to 25 men for each woman – it’s about how women occupy the streets and public space. For one, you will hardly see a woman alone, and if you do, she will either be rushing somewhere or waiting for someone.”
But the ‘Why Loiter’ initiative has also been attempting to shift the focus from the dangers of being on the streets, and how that often has an insidious connection with ‘safety’ and ‘respectability’. Instead, they promote the ‘right to purposeless fun’, to taking to the streets just for pleasure.
Which is pretty obvious from the statements of the women bike riders, who talk about the wind in their hair, and the delicious light-headedness and raciness of traversing the streets, on which they often drive around, on bikes in particular. Let’s hope they keep the good feelings coming.