In May, Malaysia launched women-only carriages on its trains and yesterday they launched women-only buses on seven routes in the Malaysian capital during peak hours. More than 60 percent of the country is Muslim and the women-only buses and carriages can help women feel more comfortable navigating the city, especially in the face of sexual harassment.
It can also help them get seats. Via an AFP article, Poovan Kaur, 63, said, “I will feel safer [on women-only buses], not because I do not trust men, but for someone my age, it’s hard to fight for space during peak hours.” [What a bunch of jerks to not give elderly people seats on the bus!]
While I appreciate that in the short-term women-only public transportation is a relief for many women, I find this “solution” by governments to be problematic.
First of all, women-only buses and trains are not offered with enough frequency to allow all women to use them, and they do not prevent men from harassing women at subway platforms or bus stops.
Second, in some cases they plainly do not work. Last week when I was in India, I found out that it is common for men to ride on the women-only subway cars in Delhi. Last week fed up women made the news when they ordered a group of men who had infiltrated their subway car to do sit ups!
Third, and most importantly, they do not address the root problem: why are men harassing women? The initiatives do not hold men accountable for ending the behavior. Instead, the initiatives segregate women away from men to provide them with temporary relief from the harassment. They place the onus on women to try to stay safe instead of targeting the harassers and gropers and challenging that behavior.
In the long term, women-only public transportation will change nothing until women are respected and men are socialized not to harass and are penalized and socially shamed if they do.