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Human Rights & Social Issues

China: Do women-only trains stop sexual harassment?


Once simply a Japanese-pioneered invention, the women-only train has become common in many countries around the world. Now Hong Kong and China have weighed in on the debate.

Women-only cars on some trains exist in Japan, Egypt, India, Iran, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Dubai.

The creation of women-only cars in other countries has led several cities in Greater China to request them; recently, the city of Wuhan decided to enforce women-only waiting areas in their stations between the hours of 9PM-7AM.

Earlier this week, Hong Kong actress Juju Chan petitioned the MTR for women-only trains after being groped on the platform during rush hour.

As a result, women-only trains has come to be seen in the West as an “Asian” thing.

The truth is that sexual harassment can and does happen anywhere. The ubiquity of women-only trains and waiting areas in these countries does not necessarily point to a higher incidence of sexual harassment.

It is instead a problem that isn’t being addressed by either the authorities or the local police force — for example, women-only trains in India have been widely welcomed by female commuters, who say that the trains are a “safe space” where they can easily find seats and avoid being accosted by male passengers.

I would like to point out that these countries have much more widely used public transit systems than in other countries. It’s hard to pinpoint your assailant when there are hundreds of people squished into the same car as you.

Public transit systems in Asia also happen to be much better organized. As someone who’s lived in New York, I doubt that the MTA has the space, capability or the manpower to install and enforce women-only trains.

Sexual harassment in New York and several other North American cities is a major concern for women commuters and is not just an “Eastern” or “Asian” problem.

Despite the popularity of women-only trains, gender-segregated cars are only a bandage solution. They do not address the real issue of sexual harassment on public transit systems.

According to a poll reported by China Youth Daily, 13.6 percent of people said they have been sexually harassed while riding the subway.

The poll also showed that 59 percent of respondents blamed women for dressing scantily, while 60.6 percent of people blamed men’s bad manners.

The sentiment of blaming women is a global problem, something that sparked the SlutWalk movement in Toronto and became a worldwide rallying cry for women against “rape culture.”

Women-only cars may in fact be exacerbating the problem because they highlight gender inequities and reinforce the idea that women need protection – the cutesy hot pink signs seen in all countries touting the women-only train car is symbolic of this. Sexual harassment is not something confined to trains or platforms.

Instead, governments should increase penalties against men who do sexually harass women, and public transit authorities should encourage both men and women to speak out against harassment they have witnessed or experienced.

The issue of harassment against women is not a women-only problem. It is a social problem that needs the help of men and women to stop it.

Originally posted at: Meanwhile in China News
[Atlantic Cities] [Jakarta Globe]

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About Victoria Sung

Victoria holds a Masters degree in Media, Culture, and Communications from New York University. Hailing from Canada, raised in Hong Kong, and educated in the US, she hopes to use her degree to foster cross-cultural communication. Chief editor of meanwhileinchinanews.com.

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  1. Pingback: Gospel of sex for Chinese women. « China Daily Mail - February 22, 2013

  2. Pingback: SlutWalk Hong Kong | China Daily Mail - November 30, 2013

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