Dubai: Every Sunday, at 5.30pm at the entrance of SALT restaurant, Kite Beach, you will find a small crowd of women dressed in tights and running sneakers chatting and laughing with each other. At first glance, you might think this is a group of friends. However, they just met each other a few minutes ago and are all strangers.
These women are all part of a walking club called, ‘Girls Who Walk Dubai’, and the person who brought them all together is UAE expatriate and founder, Farah Enayeh.
Attending the event is free, and during these walks, the women not only get their steps in but also forge new friendships and network.
You will find Enayeh leading a pack of women from different backgrounds during her walks every Sunday evening.
Mothers with their children, women who are new to Dubai, or people who want to exercise all come together for one thing – to get to know each other.
“I just want people to come out because it can be quite difficult living alone in a city, and Sundays are the right time to do it because you can get some fresh vibes before starting your Monday,” said Enayeh in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
How becoming a new mum helped start ‘Girls Who Walk Dubai’
For Enayeh, the idea to start a club came after she gave birth to her child in September 2022. She left her corporate job to take care of her baby, but stepping down from her professional life was one of her hardest decisions.
“It was a personal choice but one of the toughest decisions to make because growing up, when you’re a little girl, you want to climb that corporate ladder and have career goals, but as a woman, you have the pressure to keep that up and be a mother,” she said.
However, making that choice led her to start Girls Who Walk Dubai, because after giving birth, Enayeh began going on regular walks around her house to get back into shape and to look after her mental health.
“Whenever I would walk around, I would see mothers with their children in strollers, and I always wished that there was a connection to put us all together and walk with each other instead of being so lonely. As a new mother, it is a very difficult phase, and I didn’t want to be disconnected, especially after leaving my job,” she said.
So, to fill that gap Enayeh had created a WhatsApp group with 80 girls, which included close and mutual friends.
“The first walk I had was in 2023 during the first week of January on a Sunday, and only one girl showed up, and the second walk had five girls.”
Although her first organised walk did not start with roaring success, she decided to create an Instagram account (@girlswhowalkdubai), which now has over 5,000 followers, to get the word out.
During the earlier stages, the walks were held in different areas in Dubai, because she wanted to cater to women living across the city - Downtown Dubai, The Palm, Dubai Hills and Kite Beach.
She finally settled on Kite Beach because of its scenic location, and the weather tends to be a little cooler there.
Whenever I would walk around, I would see mothers with their children in strollers, and I always wished that there was a connection to put us all together and walk with each other instead of being so lonely.
Not a new idea, but the first in the UAE
“There is no walking group in Dubai, there are biking and running clubs but simply walking, there was nothing like that here, even though it’s not a new idea, I thought why not start it here, and bring my friends and some new women along,” she said.
The origin of 'Girls Who Walk' was first started in New York City, USA, by fitness instructor Brianna Joye in March 2022. Joye founded the ‘City Girls Who Walk’ to combat loneliness after her friends left the city during the pandemic.
The walking club is immensely popular in New York and has sprung up in different cities across the US, such as Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. Now, the club has landed in Dubai because of Enayeh.
Walking is an ancient recreational activity, and walking clubs have existed in the United Kingdom and Australia, since the early twentieth century.
However, walking got a new lease of life among young women after the TikTok trend ‘Hot Girl Walks’ rose to popularity in 2021. Women on the app would share videos of the total distance they walked, their progress and how it has helped them mentally and physically.
Enayeh explained that the women walk for around 40 to 50 minutes, which covers approximately five kilometres. “Walking is the purest form of cardio and it is for all fitness levels.”
There is no walking group in Dubai, there are biking and running clubs but simply walking, there was nothing like that here, even though it’s not a new idea, I thought why not start it here, and bring my friends and some new women along.
What sets Girls Who Walk Dubai apart from other walking clubs – ‘Netwalking’
“Netwalking is the process of building relationships with awesome people who can help you achieve your goals and get inspired while walking,” she said.
She also likes to refer to it as “Linkedin on legs”.
In the past, Enayeh attended a few networking events in Dubai and always felt constricted because of the rigid environment.
“It was very inflexible because it was difficult with having a newborn, and you have to be committed because you paid for it. Even when you are there you never really feel comfortable, because it is formal, and you can’t form any friendships.”
Although the walking group was first started as a way for women to socialise and connect, it is also an outlet for women to create professional connections and seek mentorship.
How does Enayeh do this? By bringing a roster of inspiring and influential women based in Dubai to her walks every Sunday.
Some of these women are in senior positions at high-profile companies, are business owners, content creators, entrepreneurs and even mothers with interesting stories. The women usually share their journey, network and give advice.
“I wanted to create a movement in the way we network, and make Dubai more inclusive, especially for women who are new to the city, looking for job opportunities, and simply want to make friends. It is also a place for new mothers to connect and bring their kids with them too.”
I wanted to create a movement in the way we network, and make Dubai more inclusive, especially for women who are new to the city, looking for job opportunities, and simply want to make friends.
‘Walk the talk’ with some of Dubai’s most influential women
Enayeh decided to add this feature of networking in March this year during Women’s Week. The series is called ‘Walk the Talk’.
“I reach out to women I find interesting via social media, it could be someone working in tech companies like Google or Meta, the food industry, a dermatologist or a mental health coach. I try to mix it up,” she said.
“There is no gatekeeping here, and in Dubai, there is a lot of room to meet amazing people.”
Sarah Al Dimachki, who was one of the guests invited to talk on May 21, is the co-founder of 800 Tailor, which is a Dubai-based home tailoring business, which works with designers to create custom gowns for clients.
“We joined Girls Who Walk Dubai because it is a great initiative, it’s a bunch of women coming together to empower and inspire each other, and this is the perfect place to do it,” Al Dimachki, said.
During the event, you will find guests promoting their products and handing out some goodies, such as healthy homemade snacks, cookies, and artwork they have created.
To keep it engaging, Enayeh also organises pop-ups from brands. A few weeks ago, attendees got the chance to get a free manicure, hair braiding, and massage session from Bedashing Beauty Salon.
We joined Girls Who Walk Dubai because it is a great initiative, it’s a bunch of women coming together to empower and inspire each other, and this is the perfect place to do it.
How ‘Girls Who Walk Dubai’ supported a young entrepreneur’s journey
Eve Heinz is a 19-year-old business owner who founded her protein bar brand, ‘Linafsi’ in 2022 and launched it in May this year.
Heinz stumbled upon the club, through an Instagram post, and saw that another young entrepreneur, Yara Mersi, the founder of ‘Oatful’ a protein overnight oats mix, was attending the event and was one of the guests for ‘Walk the Talk’.
“So, I decided to go to the event, and it was the warmest and most uplifting experience. Farah instantly introduced me to Yara who gave me some encouraging advice and pushed me to see it through,” she said.
Since joining the club in February this year, Heinz has attended almost every Sunday.
“I’m only 19 years old, and after high school, I’m the only one who took this path to start my own business, and it can be quite challenging. An environment like this has really motivated me,” she said.
For Heinz, it isn’t just about making business connections, but also building meaningful relationships with these women on a personal level.
“It can be quite intimidating to attend networking events, but this feels so casual and comfortable because you are just walking. You will find women of every background and age walking along with you.”
It can be quite intimidating to attend networking events, but this feels so casual and comfortable because you are just walking. You will find women of every background and age walking along with you.
From walking with a small group of friends to developing into a flourishing community
According to Enayeh, since the inception of Girls Who Walk Dubai in January this year, over 200 women have joined her weekly walks.
“The idea grew from there [Walk The Talk series], and because of that many more people started joining the walks, and fast-forward the group has grown to 60 women as of last Sunday [May 14],” she said.
Since the club is gaining momentum, Enayeh also recently got a trade licence from Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism (DET).
“I decided to apply for the trade licence to stay on the safe side. I explained to DET what exactly Girls Who Walk is, and they were really helpful.”
The starting point of the walk begins at SALT restaurant at Kite Beach, and those who attend Girls Who Walk get a 20 per cent discount on their meal. Enayeh also collaborated with SALT to create banners and promote the club on their socials.
There’s a reason why Enayeh choose SALT, firstly she wanted to stick to one place, and second, the restaurant was founded by two women, an Emirati Amal Al Marri, and Saudi national Deem Al Bassam.
A simple activity that is taking over the world and empowering women
Most of the women found 'Girls Who Walk Dubai' through their official Instagram account or other content creators.
Christina Hedges, a UK expatriate living in the UAE for two years, found out about the walking group through another blogger who attended the event.
“It looked like a great way to meet a lot of inspiring women and get some exercise while watching the sunset, so why not give it a try,” Hedges said to Gulf News.
It looked like a great way to meet a lot of inspiring women and get some exercise while watching the sunset, so why not give it a try.
Diana Zatynaychenko, a fitness instructor in the UAE, who is originally from Russia, wanted to join the group to meet like-minded women.
“I really wanted to find a network of women to connect with here in Dubai, which can be hard sometimes, and it is my second time joining here, and I’m loving it so far. You can find women from different fields, and talk with them, share your experience, and also get some support,” Zatynaychenko, said.
...it is my second time joining here, and I’m loving it so far. You can find women from different fields, and talk with them, share your experience, and also get some support
According to Enayeh, Girls Who Walk Dubai is also influencing women from around the world to start their own walking clubs.
“The idea is spreading around the world, I had a girl reach out to me from London, who also wants to start a walking club. It’s a simple idea yet is quite powerful, and can be really meaningful for women,” she said.