Are segregated carriages the answer to assault on trains?

by Laura Mundy

Image source: flickr.com

Image source: flickr.com

I was recently introduced to Slow Journalism; a concept fighting against the fast-paced, incomplete news coverage we are currently subjected to. Headline one day, viral on social media for 24 hours, and the next day? Nothing.

I wanted to reflect here on a gender-based issue that hit the headlines recently and was stereotypically brief, with little to no further comment or analysis.

Back in August, Jeremy Corbyn proposed the idea of women-only train carriages to tackle the staggering amount of gender-based violence reported on UK trains in the past year. He also suggested a 24-hour hotline where women could report incidents, an increase in cabinet members focusing on women’s safety and stricter rules for organisations reporting incidents on their premises. But it was the women-only trains that was the focus of all media coverage that day.

As I Google ‘women only train carriages UK’ I am faced with a ridiculous number of newspaper articles from the 26th August this year, all reeling off the same spiel about ‘when Jeremy Corbyn said this thing’.

News stories seemed to angle on the contraversial Labour leader Corbyn, rather than finding a viable solution to the issue at hand

News stories seemed to angle on the contraversial Labour leader Corbyn, rather than finding a viable solution to the issue at hand

So, the fact that Jeremy spoke out about the issue was well covered. But how did people react to this? Have women been consulted? What are their responses?  Were people offended or was it welcomed? Has anyone anywhere mentioned it since 26th August?

THE FACTS

Jeremy Corbyn said very clearly that the women-only train carriages idea was a proposal that required deliberation and consultation, and not a policy that had been decided upon. He made this proposal in reaction to the British Transport Police Statistical Bulletin, which reported a shocking 25% increase in sexual offences from April 2014 to March 2015.

And so I landed on the British Transport Police website in the hope of finding out more, and got this banner in my face.

British Transport Police

Aha. It’s now easy to report crimes on trains, *discreetly*. I guess discreetly is important if you’re in a confined space and are the victim of a crime. But my initial reaction to seeing the word ‘discreetly’ was a shudder. To me, you do things discreetly when you’re embarrassed, or committing a crime, not trying to report one.
They say that 5,355 incidents were attended to by BTP officers in the past 2 years since the text service was launched. And which story do they choose to highlight the ‘success’ of their service?

A gender-based violence one.

 Transport police

Man arrested. *Result*.

Too often perpetrators of this sort of crime are not caught, so I am pleased to see that this one was. But it’s the fact that they were showcasing the aftermath of a crime that irked me. Why aren’t they doing anything to stop it in the first place?

WOMEN-ONLY TRAIN CARRIAGES ACROSS THE WORLD

Wondering if the concept of women-only carriages had come up before; I turn back to Google and find a Guardian article which tells me it has, many times.

Iran, UAE and Egypt are three such cases. I find these examples difficult to use as a comparison for justifying segregated trains in the UK, as gender segregation is more commonplace in these countries; their existence cited as a by-product of cultural attitudes or religious requirements, rather than a concerns over women’s safety.

India has also introduced women-only metro carriages and whole trains in certain cities. It also has growing incidents of gender-based violence around the country. Yet the response from many women is that it’s a big step back in terms of gender equality, and does not solve anything. Gender-based violence will continue to occur elsewhere, why is there only a focus on safety on trains?

Other sources and countries report problems with enforcement, men deliberately disobeying the rules, and becoming abusive and angry when told they cannot board a train. Where whole trains are women only, male family members complain about not being able to travel on the same train as their female family members.

Certainly, I struggle to see how this segregationist attitude can be maintained and enforced.

Image source: The Telegraph

Image source: The Telegraph

GENDER SEGREGATION

I can’t help feeling that I wouldn’t want to segregate myself, as a matter of principle. To me, it feels like a form of punishment, and doesn’t address the cause of the problem. Could a better solution not arise from heightening education in equality and respect? Is it right for the onus to be on the majority (women) to change their behaviour, and not the minority (violent men)?

Where travelling segregation is already in place with the ‘first class’ system, offering those willing to pay the price – a more luxurious journey separated from ‘the rest’ of us; I myself have sneaked into first class without paying on multiple occasions. It’s easy to do and I cannot see what would stop predatory men from entering the women-only spaces.

Surely sufficient numbers of security employees on trains is the most practical, effective and fair way to prevent violence on trains, rather than an opt-in gendered seperation system.

Ultimately, I am sure a lot of women welcome the idea and would opt in for their own safety. But I can’t help wondering, if women-only carriages do come into effect, would I be blamed if anything happened to me on a train with a women-only carriage option, having chosen not to ride in it. Maybe it even looks like I’m asking for trouble.

So what would I do, if a women-only carriage arrived at my platform?

I’m actually unsure. Why should I have to make this decision at all?

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