British Socialist’s Latest Idea: Women-Only Train Cars

Labour Party leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn suggests separating railway carriages by gender.

Indonesia launched women-only train carriages in August 2010 to counter sexual harassment on public transport. (Photo: Romeo Gacad/Getty Images)

Aug 28, 2015· 2 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

British politician Jeremy Corbyn proposed reinstalling female-only train cars on Wednesday as a solution to a reported increase in sexual harassment on public transit. The candidate for the Labour Party’s leadership post also proposed a 24-hour hotline so women can report perceived sexual offenses as soon as they occur.

Rail carriages reserved exclusively for women existed on British trains for nearly 100 years, until 1977; until now, no public figure as high-profile as Corbyn, who has developed a reputation for proposing radical solutions to social problems, has talked publicly of reviving the practice.

It was estimated that sexual offenses occurring on trains and in stations in the U.K. rose to a record 25 percent of female travelers in 2014–15. One in 10 London passengers reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on metro-area public transit. However, more than 90 percent did not report the experience to police, according to a 2014–15 annual report filed by British Transport Police.

“My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone, from the train platform, to the bus stop, [and] on the mode of transport itself,” Corbyn said in a new policy statement. Corbyn represents Islington North, in Greater London.

The suggestion of women-only carriages ignited a backlash from those who say it promotes the reactionary practice of gender segregation, including three Labour Party members also vying for the leadership post—Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper, and Andy Burnham.

“Everyone should be able to travel without fear of physical or verbal attacks, and we have much to do as a society to reach that point,” Kendall, the parliamentary representative for Leicester West, told The Guardian. “But I don’t believe that gender segregation is the answer. That’d be an admission of defeat rather than a sustainable solution.”

Scores of people turned to Twitter to express their opinions on the matter, using the trending hashtag #womenonlycarriages.

“I’ve been harassed on the platform. Are we going to have segregated platforms too? And in shops, cafes, parks…” Janine Calikes tweeted.

Segregation policies on public transit systems exist in many countries. In 2007, Egypt introduced women-only carriages as a response to widespread sexual harassment—an estimated 99 percent of Egyptian women and girls said they had experienced it, according to a 2013 U.N. survey.

India followed in 2009, creating Ladies Specials train cars in light of increased concern about violence against women. A study filed in 2010 by Jagori and U.N. Women found that 66 percent of women in New Delhi reported cases of sexual harassment in the previous year. Two years later, a 23-year-old woman was brutally raped and killed in a gang attack on a New Delhi bus in a case that drew worldwide attention.

More than a third of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence, the U.N. reported in 2013. With violence against women on the rise, leaders are trying to find ways to protect and serve the needs of those at risk of harassment, especially in urban areas, where women are twice as likely as men to experience violence.

As an alternative solution, Corbyn’s rival Cooper suggested increased police and staff enforcement.

“Transport bosses and police need to do far more to crack down on harassment and abuse—and that means we need more visible police and staff on tubes, trains, and platforms,” said the member of parliament for Normanton, Pontefract, and Castleford.