Think Pink: Sexual segregation in transport

Approx read: 3 mins

Any day now, Chariot for Women, a rideshare service driven by women and exclusively for women and children passengers, will hit the streets of Boston. Inspired by mean drunks and leering cabdrivers, co-founder Michael Kelletz, himself a former Uber driver, has devised a system that protects both drivers and passengers. From the hot pink website:

‘Every time the driver starts her day, she has to answer a random security question that changes daily to ensure her identity. When the passenger requests a ride, a safe word pops up on the driver and passenger’s phone. If the driver says the correct word, the ride may begin. If the driver doesn’t have the same safe word, the passenger then knows immediately not to get into that Chariot, and will then look for the correct vehicle.’

From all the gushy press, you’d think Mike and Kelly Kelletz reinvented sliced bread.

And in the US, maybe they have.

But gender-specific public transport is nothing new in the rest of the world. In efforts to reduce public sexual harassment, ‘pink’ rail carriages transport ladies in Mumbai, Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City, Tehran, Cairo and Tokyo. German authorities just added women-and-children-only carriages to the Leipzig and Chemnitz lines.

Australia’s testing the waters of traditional gender separation transport, but Aussie feminist Eva Cox suggested a different approach:

‘I suspect if men are being drunk and obnoxious they ought to be stuck away in a separate carriage rather than limit women to the special carriage.’

For those who can afford it, taxis aren’t much better. Sure, a gal can complain to the transport bureau, but that creepy guy knows where you live.

That’s why pink taxi services are popping up in many major cities in Turkey, France, Lebanon, the UK and Egypt.

And Uber and other rated ridesharing programs are spreading faster than a hot buttered rumour.

In an effort to keep its driver ratings up, Uber outfits in Egypt and Pakistan include a 5-minute sexual harassment segment as part of introductory training.

Why all the fuss?

According to a UN study, 99% of Egyptian women between 10 and 35 years old have been sexually harassed. 81% of the events occur on public transport. 49% reported daily harassment.

And it’s not just the hotties: 75% of women surveyed described their clothes as ‘conservative’ at the time of harassment, and that they wore no make-up.

That’s just in a poor country where they don’t know any better, right?

Wrong. In an Al-Monitor study, 80% of Saudi Arabian women surveyed reported being sexually harassed in public.

OK, but it doesn’t happen in the West.

In Indianapolis, Indiana, where thrillseekers flock annually to watch cars go around a track, 500 times, sociologist Carol Brooks Gardner wrote: ‘every single woman (100 percent) [surveyed] could cite several examples of being harassed by unknown men in public.’

Acknowledgement of the problem is the first step. While some decry sexual segregation as a mere bandage, it’s a big deal that transport officials know that women face such unsafe situations that they’ve taken steps to improve conditions.

And women themselves are fighting back, through social media shaming and increased reporting of incidents.

Governments have begun to lend a hand; in Saudi Arabia, the victim of sexual harassment is no longer liable. Egypt is cracking down on criminals, with jail time and a hefty fine.

Public service groups like Harassmap in Egypt (where 65% of men think that ‘anyone in public transport’ is fair game) are getting the message out via chillingly effective short videos.

Sexual segregation may be mere triage, but in the short term it addresses the huge problem of women’s safety while thinktankers try to figure out how to get men to behave in public. Whether taking a pink taxi, submitting a scathing review, or hopping the lady train, at least women have more options than a just a few years ago.

Monetizing decent behaviour may be part of the solution to sexual harassment: rateable ridesharing will force sickos to cool it, if they want to keep their jobs.

For more info, check our battlezine’s article on women-only trains.

Sarah is a blogger, writer and amateur palaeontologist from New Orleans. When not writing or digging dinosaurs, she teaches English.