I was to catch a bus to Peshawar early morning from Islamabad. In a hurry to reach the bus stand, I skipped breakfast but thanks to the traffic jam, I missed the bus. Sitting at a smelly terminal, I felt hunger pangs. I tried to divert my mind by reading a book and scrolling my cell phone but it was of no use. Stomach growled to motivate me and I stepped out to find a decent place to have some breakfast.

Hailing from a middle class family, my eating habits are typical. A packet of chips or biscuit cannot be considered nashta (breakfast). And a Nashta I was looking for must be from a clean place, where I can sit and have my well-cooked (mixed Paksiatni) chai with Paratha anda.

In search of better options I walked a block away from the smelly, crowded bus stand area. At one turn, the aroma of freshly made paratha pulled me to a roadside student hotel. Some tables and chairs placed on the footpath made a sitting area. I reached an empty table, put my hand bag on it and grabbed a chair. But before I pulled it, a young waiter approached me. Authoritatively, he asked me to move in the family area.

But why? I questioned it as it was early February and sitting outside on a sunny day made sense.

The young waiter insisted that I should go inside and sit behind the curtain. I refused again and sat there, making him really upset. He turned to the chef (man making those crispy parathas) and the chef told him to let me sit there. But warned me in broad daylight, “madam ji kisi ny kuch keh dia tu hamari zimadari nahi hai”

“Madam if someone teased you; we will not take any responsibility”

Yes, it’s a scary world out there for women, occupying the male-dominant public spaces, walking alone on the roads, sitting at a roadside dhaba can all make women highly unsafe and insecure.

How often do you see a woman eating alone at a dhaba, restaurant or hotel?

The answer is almost never or very few.

I asked my colleagues about the idea of eating alone and most of them rejected, either they eat at the workplace or stay hungry.

But most men didn’t mind just going to the corner dhaba, canteen or a tandoor nearby to have a quick lunch, a cup of tea or just enjoy a puff of tobacco.

Wasim Ahmed, who works at ministry of information, says “ I often eat from road side venders alone in lunch hour but none of my female colleagues can enjoy alone eating like this”

Ms Neelam works at a television channel, lives in Rawalpindi, she complains “eating alone is out of question at any roadside food stall or small café. If I need to go out for lunch I prefer going out in a group”

Sonia khan is mother of three children, she thinks with kids it’s relatively easy to stop over and grab food but she felt awkward when alone.

Women make half of Pakistani population but their movement in public spaces is restricted. There is no law restricting women from these spaces but social pressure.

On this women’s day, I raised a voice for a cultural and social change for women to occupy their spaces from streets to bus stands to food joints.

Long live Aurat March!