Pakistani women buck tradition by drinking tea with men

Two Pakistani women drink tea among the men in Karachi, July 2015.
Two Pakistani women drink tea among the men in Karachi, July 2015.


In Pakistan, several young women are breaking gender barriers by daring to drink tea in cafés where, traditionally, only men go. And they’ve got photos to prove it.

Sadia, Natasha, Rabeea and Najia are four girlfriends living in the bustling, chaotic megalopolis of Karachi. All four of them have college degrees and none of them buy into the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Instead, the girls love meeting up to sit in the sun and drink chai tea in Karachi’s many tiny cafés. Called Dhabas, these cafés are often located in small shops or stalls set up alongside the road. While women aren’t forbidden, the clientele of these teahouses is almost exclusively male.

This summer, Sadia posted a photo of the girls’ meet-up on Twitter, using the hashtag #girlsatdhabas.

The girls meet up in Karachi on August 5, 2015

When the photo was published on social media, the snapshot of the girls' day out became a matter of fierce debate. One Internet user commented: “Why are women seen as anomalies in the Dhabas?”

When they started reading the comments on their photos, Sadia and her friends realised the potential power of their act. They created the website "Girls at Dhabas" to inspire other girls to share their photos and personal experiences.

“There was one girl per 25 men in this busy street. Security agents tried to direct us to family-style restaurants but we sat down in a Dhaba,” recounted a girl from Lahore.

Crossing “the red line”

A few weeks after it was launched, the Facebook page started by the four friends already has nearly 3,000 followers. Young women from as far away as India and Nepal have contributed photos.

darbar square, Kathmandu #nepal #girlsatdhabas #submission

Une photo publiée par @girlsatdhabas le

Some media outlets have described the initiative as an act of rebellion to promote women’s liberation.

However, in an interview with Pakistan's Express Tribune, the young women were careful to underline the fact that the owners of these Dhabas never banned them. The girls told the Express Tribune journalist that they believe that most of the time, the red line is in women’s heads.

In recent weeks, these young Karachi women have also started another initiative aimed at breaking down barriers and opening dialogue. They organised two cricket matches for women in middle of the street and then shared their photos on Facebook and other social media sites.

We're well into our second match now! #HappeningNow #girlsplayingstreetcricket #Karachi

Une vidéo publiée par @girlsatdhabas le