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Women Only Carriages for London? Reflections from Mexico City

27/05/2016 10:56

When Jeremy Corbyn mooted early in his leadership campaign that London could have women-only carriages on the tube I was outraged (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-34059249). Shouldn't the tube just be safe enough for everyone? What next? A carriage for other passengers who could be a target of discrimination; one for gay people or for Muslims? Ridiculous! Surely in one of the most diverse and inclusive cities in the world we can create a transport network that feels safe for all its residents without segregation?

Then I recently spent a week travelling on the women only metro carriages of Mexico City and began to see some merits.

On first experience, it reinforced and even emphasised my preconceptions:

Crossing a metal barrier into an odd small cage for women while men glare over the divide felt like I and the other women were communicating 'I feel vulnerable around men', emphasising the power of the men outside the zone.

There was a sense that women choosing to travel as a minority in the mixed but majority men's carriages are fair game or 'asking for it' as they have deliberately not taken the safe option.

And there was the odd sensation at the end of your journey of being released back into the wild into the mainstream world of mixed gender - and thus the impact that the segregation has on other dynamics in the city as you become much more aware of yourself as a female in a man's city.

However the more metro journeys I took, the more I found myself being lured back past the metal barriers into the comfort of the women only carriages.

Why?

Firstly, because of the colour! The women's carriages are awash with pinks and reds and yellows and lipstick and glamerous shoes, compared to the drab grays and blacks and blues of the rest of the train, simply making the journey more fun.

Second, when the women selling CDs walk up and down the carriage with a ghetto blaster booming out 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' or 'Saturday Night Fever', the all female passengers smile at each other and shimmy their shoulders without inhibition. A rare opportunity to dance freely in a culture where women still dance mainly with a man in the lead. (The brilliant DDPP is a fantastic example of a global movement for women to dance for their own pleasure: http://dancedancepartyparty.com/home.html).

And third, because when men do get into the women's carriages - as they do occasionally when the others are overflowing or they are accompanying children - they enter a women's world.

But also I reluctantly have to admit to myself that I did, in fact, feel safer in these female only carriages. I would comfortably have a look at my map or read my book, relaxed in solidarity with my Mexican sisters.

I still don't think separate carriages would be the right choice for London. But I would like to feel the safe, fun and vibrant female-led atmosphere of Mexico City's women's carriages in more public spaces.

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