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I Come From A Country Where There Are Women-Only Train Carriages. Trust Me UK, Say No

23/08/2017 13:07
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Perhaps it doesn't require a long blog to arrive at this conclusion: segregating public spaces by gender is a bad idea. But what is it about doing this to public transport that politicians find so enticing?

Earlier this week, Labour MP for Derby North and shadow minister Chris Williamson suggested that 'women only' train carriages may help combat sex attacks. This sentiment has also been echoed in the past by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said he would 'consult with women' about it. Conservative MP Claire Perry, during her tenure as Under-Secretary of State for Transport, made similar pro-train segregation noises during a party event.

Despite rightful widespread condemnation, British politicians seem to sporadically see segregation as a one-size-fits-all solution to harassment - but little empirical data exists to suggest that it empowers women. A good point of reference would be to look at those places that do implement segregation on their public transport networks. The biggest of them all is India.

India offers a veritable smorgasbord of women-only transport options. Every Mumbaikar knows of the 'Ladies Compartment' in the lifeblood of Mumbai's commuter rail network, the 'Local' trains. Recent years have even seen the introduction of entire 'Ladies Special' trains.

Several trains - local and long distance - have the words 'Men Not Allowed' emblazoned on them. Delhi's state-of-the-art metro has women-only carriages, and the public buses in most cities have women-only seats. Some buses even have a false wall between the women-only and 'general' seating areas.

The gravity of India's ongoing battle against sexual harassment is well known; the problem is ubiquitous, and the advent of social media has seen global attention drawn to it.

But what few outside India know is that the depth of the problem is such that Indians don't even use the phrase 'sexual harassment' to describe it: the term is taboo. From law enforcement to the media to the everyman, the term used is 'Eve teasing'. The problem has been reduced to a euphemism.

Crimes against women and sexual abuse occur shockingly often. India's National Crime Records Bureau registered 327,394 crimes against women in 2015. That's over one sexually motivated crime every two minutes. Seemingly, little benefit has emerged from a century-old gender-segregated transport network.

However, the brave women of India are fighting back. The realisation has dawned that the only solution to ending sexual harassment is education. A major victory in their battle against abuse came in the form of a law to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, which passed in 2013. They know segregation is not the answer, and they most certainly do not need men telling them what to do and where to sit.

At this juncture, it is worth noting that India's women-only public transport options were introduced during the British Raj.Here's why: several lines within the UK had some 'women only' carriages since the 1840s. Just a few decades later, in the 1870s, London railways introduced them too after it witnessed a spate of attacks on women by men on board the trains and the men in charge of the railways responded by "protecting" women with isolated 'women only' carriages.

These were only abolished in 1977. The Victorian archetype of women - 'meek and submissive', as railway historian David Turner notes - was rightly relegated to those chapters of our history that should best stay closed, but never forgotten.

But evidently, we have forgotten. Is this what we hold up as an ideal - a throwback to the aforementioned era of segregation?

Perhaps some much-needed introspection is long overdue for British leaders proposing such outmoded methods to tackle crimes against women.

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