Jeremy Corbyn, of whom I am a definite fan, has raised the idea of introducing women-only carriages on British trains in a bid to prevent sexual harassment.
Having spent a year working in London, I am not completely unfamiliar with uncomfortable commuting experiences. That moment when someone ‘accidentally’, yet repeatedly, brushes their groin up against you, a misplaced hand during a crowded carriage ride, and the usual cat calling all played a part in my otherwise wonderful time in the Big Smoke.
I was lucky – although uncomfortable, nothing particularly terrible happened to me. However, this isn’t the case for hundreds of women around the world. The rise of sexual offences on trains is well-documented, with British Transport Police having announced a 34.7% increase in reported on London’s public transport network in 2014/15 compared to the previous year.
These statistics make women-only spaces an incredibly compelling idea. What woman wouldn’t enjoy a bit of time off from worrying about her personal space being invaded, or her bodily autonomy threatened?
Reality check: this isn’t the solution to sexual harassment. In fact, this might make the situation worse, excusing society from confronting the wider issues behind sexual harassment and violence.
I get it; in the short term, it seems a perfect solution to a growing and scary societal issue. However, this sort of move would be like trying to repair an aneurysm with a Peppa Pig plaster. If we want to put an end to sexual harassment, we need to treat the cause, and not just the symptoms.
A few of the issues that aren’t sitting right with me are listed below.
- Women and non-binary people need to be able to occupy public spaces, including public transport, in the same way that men currently do. Public spaces need to be welcoming to all genders. After all, if we’re really devolving to a gender-segregated world, why stop at trains? Street harassment is rife within our cities and towns – should we have women-only avenues? We need to reclaim these spaces, instead of being pushed out of them. This means tackling our societal systems as they currently stand, ensuring that education challenges the entrenched cultural attitudes about blame, shame, sex, gender and power from an early age.
- This type of policy proliferates the ‘Protective Patriarchy’ – the patronising insistence that women need to be protected, shielded from the realities of society, instead of challenging and standing in solidarity against them. This notion maintains that the only way to protect women is to place them under the authority of men, for, as we are told, only men can protect women from other men.
- Trans inclusivity is a must. ‘Women Only’ spaces which exclude trans women are NOT WOMEN ONLY. Cis women (women whose gender align with their sex) are heard more than anybody in feminist spaces, and trans women are continually silenced. Trans women are disproportionately affected by harassment and violence (motivated by hateful attitudes towards gender identity), and yet there is a serious gap in ensuring safe spaces when it comes to people who live at the intersection of being both trans and a woman.
- Such policies place victims of harassment at risk of ‘blame culture’ – even more so than usual. Like other forms of violence prevention that put the onus on women to keep themselves safe, women-only transportation facilitates the problem of victim blaming – “If she didn’t want to be harassed, then why didn’t she use the women’s only carriage?” It is not the job of the victim to police their own behaviour. It is not the job of the victim to police their own behaviour. Shall I say it again? It is not the job of the victim to police their own behaviour.
Women’s rights are human rights, and we must shift the blame from women who suffer sexualised violence to those who inflict it, ignore it and even deny it. So, Corbyn, thanks for thinking of us, but we’ll take fighting the root of the problem above a quick-fix any day.