Women-Only Transport: Promoting Sexism or Safety?

pretty female commuter daydreaming on bus

oh, the places you’ll go… when you don’t have to worry about misogyny.

IT MIGHT SOUND SEXIST, and even contrary to the aims of contemporary feminism, to separate men and women from riding on public transportation together – but could it actually be a good idea? Because sexual harassment in public is so prevalent, not to mention the outright sexual violence that occurs against women on public transportation, more than 15 countries — including Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates — have attempted to implement women-only modes of transportation, offering women the opportunity to travel with more security.

Other places that have implemented this system include Nepal, which offers a women-only minibus service; Egypt, where there are designated women-only subway cars; Tokyo, whose Metro adopted women-only cars for the morning rush hour (which is when the majority of groping complaints would occur); and New York, where the smartphone app SheRides operates and offers women-only drivers to female passengers. 

These efforts aren’t just being spearheaded by government officials and app developers, though. Women who have direct experience with sexual harassment in public have taken matters into their own hands. Sunita Choudary, in North India, is a female rickshaw driver who offers free rides to women who have suffered injuries from encounters in the past. In Lahore, Pakistan, Zar Aslam created a rickshaw service for women after she grew tired of being groped and harassed by male rickshaw drivers.

Complaints about offering gender specific transportation have inevitably cropped up, from married couples who cannot ride together and people claiming that it encourages misogyny and disrupts equality. Some argue — mistakenly — that street harassment is something that people should just “get over,” while others bring up the fact that the sex-segregation transportation policy will not prevent women from being harassed at bus stops and subway platforms. It also fails to address the issue of gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender individuals, who also experience high levels of sexual harassment. Without proper enforcement or security, there are some men who attempt to board the women-only metro or bus. And women-only transportation policies don’t address the issue of why the sexual harassment is happening in the first place. According to a CNN article, Julie Babinard, a senior transport specialist from the World Bank, said, “Women-only initiatives are not likely to provide long-term solutions as they only segregate by gender and provide a short-term remedy instead of addressing more fundamental issues.”

Sexual harassment seems to be something that we can’t just get rid of, and unless things change drastically, will most likely always be around in some form or other. But if gender-specific transportation makes women’s lives that much better by offering them a travel option that they are more comfortable with, then it seems pretty reasonable to continue to offer it. It should be available as an option, along with co-ed transport. Julie Babinard’s opinion aside, who said that we can’t have short-term remedies while we address the fundamental issues? By educating children about the consequences of sexual harassment from a young age, we might have a chance at changing the way the next generation views this problem – which in turn could lead to a significant improvement in the way women are treated.

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