Women-only train carriages are back on the agenda again after Shadow Minister Chris Williamson said that there is some merit in exploring the introduction of women-only carriages. Addressing the increase in a rise of reported assaults against women on trains, Williamson repeated Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership pledge to consider implementing women-only carriages in an effort to reduce assaults against women.
The revival of the idea has come under sharp criticism from politicians, trade unionists, and journalists who see the policy as regressive. Stella Creasy MP Tweeted, “[it] doesn’t keep women safe to restrict their movements – it normalises attacks. We need to be clear they [the attackers] are problem, not women’s seating plans.” Journalist Isabel Hardman posted a thread on Twitter in which she suggested that women-only carriages is an acceptance of the culture in our society which perpetuates violence against women, and won’t solve the injustices women face.
Supporters of gender-segregation on public transport point to international examples. Iran, India, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Brazil and Mexico all subscribe to the policy and have witnessed mixed results, but is wildly believed to be successful in reducing the amount of assaults where it is enforced. It is however, important to take into account the attitudes towards women within those societies. Women are at best treated as second class citizens, they face institutionalised discrimination, and sexual assaults and rape are unfortunately not uncommon. Women-only carriages can be seen to be another example of the suppression of women.
Instead of taking lessons from countries which are behind the times in respecting women, politicians ought to listen to women who have experienced harassment and violence directed towards them by men. Politicians ought to start with the criminal justice system, and make women feel they can approach the police for help, and actually be believed when coming forward with a complaint. As a society, we should knock the idea that women are somehow to blame for the crimes committed against them, on the head. It happens too often: a woman complains about an assault or harassment, only for society to ask what she was wearing at the time of the crime, and in what way the victim ‘provoked’ the perpetrator.
We should also take note that women have been consistently disproportionately effected by austerity measures, which is a real step backwards in tackling sexual harassment and assault. Women have taken more than 85 per cent of the burden of austerity measures since 2010, according to the Women’s Budget Group. Police services across the country, including the British Transport Police, have reduced front-line officers due to the severe impact of austerity and tight-budgeting, which makes our public transport less safe. Furthermore, women’s refuges are under immense pressure due to austerity measures, with many already having closed due to the lack of funding given to local government to help protect women. Politicians should highlight this fact, and commit to reversing the measures which disproportionately affect women.
There is no doubt that serious action needs to be taken to tackle the growing amount of assaults against women on public transport, but gender segregation is clearly not the answer. I always feel somewhat reluctant to openly express my opinion on which steps are necessary to take in the fight against patriarchy, as although I define as a feminist myself, I believe that men should be the ones who listen to the concerns of women, not lecturing, or even worse, ‘mansplaning’ feminism. Men in positions of authority should take notice of what women, and women’s charities, are saying about addressing violence against women, not producing policy which most women identify as the wrong approach.