Women-only Trains

Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City, Delhi, London (maybe), Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, Tehran. What do these cities have in common? Their metros all have women-only carriages.

I’ve reached the age at which, instead of getting groped on a crowded train, I get offered a seat. But I remember those days!

Segregated trains are safer. According to a YouGov survey, 43% of London women between 18 and 34 experienced sexual harassment in public spaces last year. The spike, up 21% since 2010, has opened debate on whether London should have women-only trains.

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Enforcement varies from city to city. In Delhi and Mumbai, ‘aunties’ shame and elbow male hopefuls off the train. In Mexico City and Tokyo, metro police ensure enforcement. Tehran uses clear plastic gates to separate the rams from the ewes.

Women travellers seem to like the change.

‘It’s fun. It smells better,’ a woman from Mumbai said.

Problem solved, right? Wrong. What happens to those women once they get off the train?

Some sociologists think that women-only trains are a cultural canary in the coal mine, a scary indication of how much women get hassled and abused in public.

Others worry a woman boarding mixed-gender trains may seem to be open to harassment. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project told the BBC, “If you have a women’s only carriage and a woman doesn’t travel in that carriage and she’s sexually assaulted, are people then going to blame her for what’s happened to her?”

What if that woman is a foreigner who looks funny and doesn’t speak the language?

Whatever your politics may be at home, solo female travellers face safety challenges that our hairier counterparts don’t even think about.

She travels the fastest who travels alone. (Apologies to Kipling.) Women-only cars are an imperfect solution for female travellers, but until the world sorts out its gender issues, a safe one.