THE BLOG

Women-Only Train Carriages Won't Solve the Problem of Harassment and Are a Daft Idea

26/08/2015 18:00 BST | Updated 26/08/2016 10:59 BST

Sexism on our streets, and in women's everyday life is still rife in Britain in 2015 - and that should shame us all, men and women. That's why we need to keep Women's Safety Centre Stage, the title of the Labour Women's Safety Commission launched by Yvette Cooper in 2011, and led by Vera Baird QC, which published its final report in December 2014.

Domestic and sexual assault and violence has a huge impact on women and girls' lives - their physical and psychological wellbeing, their sense of safety, and their ability to work.

We know the economic cost of domestic violence alone is billions each year. I recently attended a very moving local charity event organised by a woman whose life was left shattered by years of domestic abuse. She felt she had to leave her job as a Headteacher and is now rebuilding her life through using her talent as an artist and as a campaigner for change.

Politicians need to confront the huge damage violence against women and girls has on our society - and our economy. It is wrong in the 21st century that women should feel scared on public transport, in the workplace, at school or on the streets.

Had Labour been elected in May, one of our first actions would have been to have a Violence Against Women and Girl's Bill in our first Queen's Speech. We would have established a new Commissioner for Domestic and Sexual Violence tasked with developing minimum standards of service provision at all levels, and being a voice for victims at the heart of Government.

We would have introduced a statutory obligation on Government, local authorities and other responsible bodies at the local level, to develop integrated domestic and sexual violence strategies. We would also have sustained the Rape Support Fund and introduced a new national refuge fund, and ensured better access to legal aid for domestic violence victims.

In March we also published our Girl's Safety Summit report following a series of girl's summits around the country. It is staggering indeed that one in six teenagers in relationships say they've experienced sexual violence. One in three teenage girls say they've had to put up with unwanted groping or harassment in school itself. The findings revealed how young women and girls are concerned about attitudes towards gender and how they are affecting both the empowerment of young women and the attitudes of boys towards girls at school. And how young women and girls experience harassment, not only in the digital sphere, but in their day to day lives and how young women and girls want better and more comprehensive sex and relationships education in schools.

All of these were policies and ideas were developed by Yvette Cooper, myself, the rest of the Home Affairs team and women across the Labour movement.

But we lost the General Election and now it is our responsibility to push the current Government to take up some of plans to combat domestic violence and sexual harassment. We need a strong prevention strategy, starting at a young age as attitudes form, that sends a message of zero tolerance of violence or harassment. That's why we need compulsory and age appropriate relationship and sex education in schools, something the Tories have yet to commit to despite calls from young people, parents and even the Education Select Committee.

And it is vital that any measures have to take us forwards not backwards. The suggestion that we introduce women-only carriages is a daft idea. Not least because it feeds the notion that it is for women to change their behaviour or patterns to avoid violence or harassment, rather than all spaces needing to be safe. This might happen in India, but sends all the wrong messages to women and men and avoids rather than addresses the problem.

Even the British Transport Police believe that women-only carriages would be a "retrograde step in Great Britain, which could be thought of as insulting, patronising and shaming to both men and women".

Safety on transport must be tackled - but through other means like CCTV on carriages, better staffing and effective campaigns with faster justice. I am also concerned this would be the thin end of the wedge, with segregation seen as an answer to keeping women safe.

Women across the Labour movement - and particularly Yvette Cooper - have been working on VAWG issues for years. Our proposals would make a massive difference to women's lives. So let's not turn the clock back with policies that don't help further the cause of equality or keep women safe.