No one likes the idea of segregation, but practicality has to come first
Jeremy Corbyn has put forward the idea of having a consultation on introducing women-only train carriages to protect women from harassment. In a policy statement the leadership hopeful said:
“Some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women only carriages.
“My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform, to the bus stop to on the mode of transport itself.
“However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome – and also if piloting this at times and modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.”
I understand the instinctive opposition to this idea. Gender segregation in any public sphere is not exactly progressive, plus it feeds into the idea that sexual harassment is the fault of the woman experiencing it. Hide the woman, and the men will be able to control themselves. Show the woman, and she must be prepared to deal with the consequences. This is offensive to men as well as women.
Essentially, Corbyn’s idea tackles the symptom of sexual harassment, not the cause. The problem would be better handled, say critics, by education and equality initiatives aimed at boys and men. However, we have a while to wait. If a country-wide programme of education about why men shouldn’t rape women began tomorrow, it would still be at least another generation until old ideas were stamped out.
And in the meantime, women are trying to get home every night scared. I am not even talking about the unwanted chat and intrusive questions. Personally I feel I can deal with these and I do not, like Guardian journalist Daisy Buchanan, ‘try be in bed by 11pm’ every night because these things make me fear for my safety. Some things I am willing to brush off because I am busy.
I am talking about men touching, pushing against, moving towards, following me, all of which have happened countless times to me and every woman I know. With the threat of these, perhaps many women would rather sit in a segregated carriage and accept the sadness that this is necessary. Practicality has to come first.
It is worth noting that there is a difference between enforced segregation, and giving women who do feel uncomfortable the option of moving to somewhere they feel safe. I am pretty sure – I hope – that Corbyn isn’t proposing splitting trains in half. This should be about choice. The comparisons with Saudi Arabia etc are clearly misrepresenting Corbyn’s point.
Anyway, the important thing is that this is a debate worth having. Since TfL stopped accepting cash on London buses, it has become more dangerous for women to be out late at night. When Oyster top up points are closed, and if you don’t have a contactless payment card, it is easy to find yourself completely stranded and having to pay for a taxi.
If night opening goes ahead on the London Underground it will represent a welcome second option for women, but we must have a conversation about the safety concerns this will bring with it. I am pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has got people discussing this.
This doesn’t have to be segregated carriages; it could also be increased security on trains. Corbyn is right to say that this decision can only be made fairly by listening to the voices of women who are affected by it. No one likes the idea of segregation, but it is more important that women feel safe without having to resort to curfews.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward.
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