Tea time: #GirlsAtDhabas is crowdsourcing funds to set up a dhaba run by women

Tea time: #GirlsAtDhabas is crowdsourcing funds to set up a dhaba run by women

Planned as a safe space for women and members of transgender communities, the dhaba will also be open to men
Updated 29 Jan, 2016

From claiming their space at male-dominated street-side dhabas to now opening a dhaba of their own, the Girls at Dhabas movement in Pakistan has made significant progress. Recently, they asked their steadily increasing pool of well-wishers for financial support to help them set up a dhaba of their very own.

The aim of the movement, spearheaded by a group of young women in Karachi, is to enable women, who are deterred by concerns for their safety, to visit public spaces. The dhaba that the group is aiming to set up through crowd funding will not only be a safe space for them, but also be run by women.

One of the movement's founders Natasha told Images that they hope to open the dhaba in a central location that is easily accessible and all-inclusive.

A dhaba and then some

While traditional dhabas focus on serving customers tea and edibles that are light on the pocket, Girls at Dhabas want their dhaba to be more than that.

"We are imagining it as a community space and tea shop," Natasha elaborates. "It will be modeled after the Khanabadosh Writer's Cafe in Hyderabad. A feminist hub [that encompasses] dialogue, workshops, a motorcycling club for women, formalized street cricket for girls and more activities around our activism. We want to make a small dent in Karachi's male-dominated public space — a pocket of oxygen that is inclusive, safe and welcoming for women and minorities who want to be able to chill on the streets and have a (cheap) cup of chai,"

She adds that books will also be found at their dhaba.

Men allowed

Given that the widespread misperception that feminists are somehow anti-men, the Girls at Dhaba movement is making sure to not contribute to that narrative. Instead, they will counter it by welcoming men into their dhaba.

While some people believe that the dhaba may reinforce the segregation of women from men, Natasha stresses that women are systematically excluded from public spaces, and this dhaba will allow them to reclaim their space alongside men, who are welcome at the dhaba too.

However, men will not be employed at the dhaba. "We will employ gender minorities, which includes women and khwajasira (transgender) staff," Natasha said. This will be another effort to re-integrate the marginalised khwajasira community into society.

Are people really willing to donate for a dhaba?

Ranging from their near full-house dhaba meet-ups to well-attended galli cricket matches to sessions at educational institutions, the community has received an overwhelming response from young women and girls; many men have also shown their support by endorsing the campaign. However, the question remains, are people willing to financially contribute to the novel campaign?

It appears some do. Natasha shares that funding has gradually trickled in from some individuals: "Regarding our crowdfunding campaign, we have raised 40% of our target and are counting on the people who believe in this work to help us meet the rest before November 26."

"We have been approached by international organizations to fund [our project], but we want to be able to [decline their offer] as we really want this to be an independent, community-led initiative, as opposed to another hierarchical, top-down one."

"If you would like to imagine a more inclusive society for the women of Pakistan, then you need to support this cause. The absence of women from Pakistan's public spaces represents their systemic exclusion from a social and fully human existence. It indicates how overwhelmingly patriarchal our society has become and thus needs to be actively resisted, which is what we are trying to do through our work," Natasha added.

Contributors to their campaign get to enjoy perks such as getting a food item named after them (for the most generous donor), alongwith stickers, T-shirts and of course chai!


Khan Nov 19, 2015 12:49pm
Keep it up and get going !!!
Khan Nov 19, 2015 12:52pm
Keep it up and get going !!!
Hasan Nov 19, 2015 01:10pm
I have seen Women running Tandoors Shops and Dhabas in Azad Kashmir and Potohar ( Punjab) region for a longer time now. Just visit any village and you will find such shops. Unfortunately the City Folks ( Lahoris and Karachites) never come out of their cities to witness such stories. Unfortunately the city folks think they are spearheading the change, but the reality is infact different.
Raheel Nov 19, 2015 01:10pm
After meeting all operational expenses the profits, how little they may be, should be distributed to NGOs which look after women. Because the purpose here is not to run a business which makes millions but to empower women, especially more so because this initiative is starting from donations and not the traditional sources of finance for start-ups.
Zubair Nov 19, 2015 02:36pm
These people need to visit Karachi University which on the other side of the bridge. They will find Dhabbas exclusively occupied by girls and girls playing cricket on the streets...
m m amin Nov 19, 2015 02:53pm
people funding a privately owned business? Intriguing or interesting . what an enterprise !
RIZ Nov 19, 2015 03:17pm
There are so many other things to do.
kallan Nov 19, 2015 03:17pm
I though dhabba was an Indian term and only existed there.
Vinita Nov 19, 2015 03:17pm
It is a very good idea. In India, we too have some male waiters in small eateries staring at female customers who simply want to sit and have a meal alone...great work guys and hopefully we can replicate this here too!
human Nov 19, 2015 03:28pm
awesome idea ! Go for it . Cheers
HBK Nov 19, 2015 03:36pm
As far as I recall there are no specific laws stressing upon the 'systematic seggregation of women'. Nor we have 'no women allowed' banners hanging in the restaurants. Just a gimmick to grab attention and nothing more.
ABC Nov 19, 2015 03:37pm
This mentality will bring Women only and soon Men only things in Pakistan. Instead of modernizing, some people are moving backwards
Muhammad Umer Nov 19, 2015 04:11pm
The real question is will this dhaba be able to attract and welcome women of the class which actually needs these dhabas. Those working, lower middle class girls. Men at dhabas usually belong to this class. Without this, its is nothing more than an open air gossip club
M. ASIF Nov 19, 2015 05:01pm
Class idea. Though some dhabas r seen in interior but for Karachi it should be a great change in the city. All the best.
M Akram Nov 19, 2015 05:03pm
Great ldea "girls" . Let up hope your venture is a roaring success for you and many other women folks in Pakistan like you to follow.
Syed Kamal Nov 19, 2015 05:14pm
Absolutely great idea. Girls go for it. I have discussed with my wife getting a scooty for her so she be a little less dependent on me and public transport. Women should be heard and seen in all walks of life. No barriers.
Hamaad Nov 19, 2015 06:54pm
Great job opportunities for women and khawajaserais. Best of luck to everyone.
Sohail Nov 19, 2015 09:24pm
@Hasan Well my observation is the same. I personally think that Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas are far less patriarchal then KPK and even Punjab.
Vijay from Bangalore, India Nov 20, 2015 12:19am
Excellent.. This is so positive to read... #TheWomanPower #BetterWorld #GoodLuck
Hasan Nov 20, 2015 03:15am
@Sohail Potohar ( Potohari Punjabi speaking regions excluding Mianwali ) and Azad Kashmir ( Pothari speaking Azad Kashmir regions ) which i am referring to do not exactly belong from the Northern Regions of Pakistan. Potohar is the Upper Part of Punjab. So i do not know that weather you are mixing geographies or never visited those regions in the first place. Most people do not even know that Majority Language of Azad Kashmir is Pothari that is understood In Upper Punjab and Hazara division as well.
Baba Nov 20, 2015 05:56am
@kallan dhaba is a Punjabi term
Sohail Nov 21, 2015 01:57pm
@Hasan I was referring to the culture of these areas specifically pertaining to patriarchy not languages. I actually live in Azad Kashmir and visited almost entire Gilgit baltistan from Chilas to Skurdu and Hunza. Present day Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir were part of single J&K state before partition under Sikh rule. Regarding languages in Azad Kashmir, Pahari is spoken with different variations. Pahari is similar to Pothohari but not the same. Pahari is also spoken in Poonch region of Indian held Kashmir. Languages in Northern Areas is an entirely different story. I still don't see how this discussion of languages is relevant here.
Afsana Nov 23, 2015 11:42pm
Nice...that would be fun for us Dhaba for girls...
Afsana Nov 23, 2015 11:43pm
By this women would be free from man's staring...
Kamran Nov 24, 2015 09:37am
Good luck for what you guys have in mind. For instance you can also setup a facebook page allowing many viewers to see what you are doing and join the momentum!