‘Lyari Girls Cafe’ – Once known as a hub of gangsters, this brilliant getaway for women now brightens up the town [VIDEO]

Soon the café flourished into a community space where women of all ages spend hours learning new skills, playing foosball or carrom, and practicing different hairstyling techniques.

On the roof of a block of residential flats on Lyari’s street called Phool Patti (flower petal) Lane lies the Lyari Girls Café. Outside the café, bustling life goes by – dentists and kiosks line the street, goats and rats run the place, and men sit by the side enjoying street life.

Women, covered in black robes, walk past this hustle-bustle looking down, but as soon as they step into the café, their faces light up. Since 2017, the Lyari Girls Café has been a haven for the region’s females.

Before the café’s existence, Phool Patti Lane was known for the infamous “White House”, the torture cell operated by one of the most notorious gangsters in the area, Baba Ladla, and many other violent gangs. The area suffered at least two decades of conflict and almost became an adjective to describe Karachi’s violence.

Speaking to a media outlet, 26-year-old Zulekha Dawood explained living on the lane five years ago:

We never thought we would have to leave, but there came a time when there were sounds of bullets all the time. There was no food, water, or medicine. We could not bear it. We had to leave. Everybody had to leave. We left and took nothing with us.

How did the Lyari Girls Cafe come into being?

Dawood returned to the street with her family and neighbors two and a half months later, only to find a wary stillness in the air. She recalled:

You could only hear the sound of the birds; it was all so quiet. There was so much fear, the fear that had been embedded in all of us.

This fear is the reason Dawood decided to help the women of Lyari. Talking about the café’s initiative, Dawood said:

While men had access to public places, street corners, community centers, and tea stalls, where they could interact in search of normalcy, the women had nowhere to go. We felt like we needed to help these women living with trauma, who had no space to assuage their fears.

Dawood set up the café with her 19-year-old friend Raheen Rimsha. The two collaborated with the Lyari-based NGO Arado and went door-to-door to invite women to visit.

Soon the café flourished into a community space where women of all ages spend hours learning new skills, playing foosball or carrom, and practicing different hairstyling techniques.

Describing the café, 19-year-old Summaiya Muhammad said:

This cafe is an escape for me from my family, who believe a woman’s place is inside the house. My father always says, ‘what is the point of me studying as eventually, I will be spending my day standing by a stove [in the kitchen]’. I want to go to college, but my brothers say there is no point as ‘you have to get married anyway’. Still, I secretly fill out college forms here. Maybe they will eventually allow me to go.

What does the Lyari Girls Café offer?

Nida Kirmani, a sociologist who has done extensive research on Lyari, said:

The cafe is a safe space for women and girls to socialize, connect with other women, and get a break from the stresses of everyday life. The café helps individuals and communities heal from experiences of violence.

The café offers:

  • English language classes
  • Makeup and hairstyling lessons
  • Computer classes
  • Guest lectures on topics ranging from mental health to photojournalism and cybercrime laws.
  • Physical exercise – football, boxing, and cycling

What is the future of the Lyari Girls Cafe?

Although the café is developed for a good cause, it’s existence has garnered severe opposition. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a right-wing political party that won parliamentary seats in the 2018 elections, is the biggest opposer of the café.

Unconcerned by the cafe’s other activities, TLP parliamentarian Younus Soomro said:

I am not a fan of the cycling initiative. I don’t look at activities like cycling as very decent for women. We are a Muslim country, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and this would not even be acceptable according to the Shariah.

TLP’s strong presence in Lyari scares the Lyari Girls Café’s owners and supporters. Talking about receiving implicit threats, they said:

We sometimes see comments on social media meant to intimidate us and stop us from our sports activities.

However, the fact that the café is making women happy and giving them a chance to get out of the house and find freedom motivates the authorities to continue fostering the initiative. Lyari Girls Café paves the way to a world many women believed only existed in dreams. We wish the Lyari Girls Café best of luck in their endeavors.

What are your thoughts on this? Please share with us in the comment section below.

  • For anyone who uses Brain is a clear indication that after Lyari people remove the slavery of always voting PPP. The fresh new air for them to breath without fear.

    Still a long road ahead but a path has been founded.

  • Main Lyari mein raha hoo, almost 10 years,, Lyari k log i think poorey karachi mein rehne wale logo se ziada talented, hardworker, creative aur brave hein. in ke aurtein b kisi b field mein apne mardo se peache nahi, bus in logo ke budqismati hai k inhein PPPP walo ne kabhi b acha mahol faraham nahi keeya, na education, na hospitals, aur na he doosri tamam facilities.

    • Mera University a Final year project ka dost bhi Lyari sae tha jab muje kafi detail mei pata chala other than our media k Lyari ka scene kia hai in real. I totally agree with you mera dost bhi externely hard working tha aur apni mehnat sae UK bhi gya studies k liae.

      PPPP walon nae murda bhutoo k naam pe bhaut siasat ki lekin Lyari walon ka aaj bhi muje woh jumla yaad hai k Ye Bilawal Bhutoo ki aulad nai balkay Zardari ki aulad hai. Bhutoo khandan asla haqeeqat mei aik dosray ko martay martay aab khatam ho chuka hai.

      Again I agree with u and stay strong !!!

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