No Boys Allowed: The Rise of Women-Only Commuting

Sitting in traffic in my air-conditioned, single-occupancy vehicle, I often lament the fact that Seattle doesn’t have a rapid mass-transit system. However, an article in The Seattle Times about commuters in Mexico City has made me reconsider.

“Groping and verbal harassment are an exasperating reality for women using public transportation in this sprawling capital [Mexico City], where 22 million passengers cram onto subways and buses each day. Some men treat women so badly that the subway system has long had women-only cars during rush hour, with police segregating the sexes on the platforms.”

women_only_commuting.jpgTurns out that in many major cities around the world women are routinely harassed, groped and molested while riding public transit to and from work everyday. According to Wikipedia cities in Japan, Egypt, India, Taiwan, Russia and the Philippines already offer women-only passenger cars or buses and South Korea is planning to start soon.

The good news is that the “women-only” policy seems to be a resounding success not only in stopping violence against women, but also in improving the quality of women’s lives and commutes.

I can only imagine the harassment these women face once they reach their destination after dealing with such behavior on their way to work.

Are women-only offices next on the list?

Update 3.6.08

Harvard University has recently instituted “women-only” hours at one of its student gym facilities on campus in response to a request from a group of Muslim women who, for religious and cultural reasons, are uncomfortable working out in front of men.

“”We get special requests from religious groups all the time and we try to honor them whenever possible,” he said, noting that the school has designated spaces for Muslim and Hindu students to pray.

No men are allowed in the gym between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays, and between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even the staff during those times is all women.

The special hours allow the Muslim women, who adhere to traditional dress codes by covering their hair and most of their skin while in public, to dress more appropriately for exercising, said Susan Marine, director of the women’s center.”

The decision has not been popular among students of both sexes.

“”I think that it’s incorrect in a college setting to institute a policy in which half of the campus gets wronged or denied a resource that’s supposed to be for everyone,” said student Lucy Caldwell, who also wrote a column in The Harvard Crimson newspaper critical of the new hours.”

I agree that the closing of the center to men at various times of day might cross the thin line between accommodation and discrimination. However, a male student offered what I think to be a fair and resonable solution:

“Nick Wells, a junior who wrote an opinion piece in the Crimson criticizing the policy, suggested setting aside one room for women.

“It’s not that I am opposed to the idea of helping people in religious groups or women in general, but I just think Harvard is not being fair to people like me who live (near the gym),” Wells said in an interview.”

Looks like the battle of the sexes continues…



3 responses »

  1. My wife works in a medical center, and she has to take public transportation part of the way into work. She was accosted the other day. I would dearly love to see such behavior stopped, but I think that I would be embarrassed for my city, if the solution was to separate the genders just to prevent such abuse.

    I wonder if images in the media of provocative looking people, and displays of sexual situations, encourages some men to feel that such attitudes are alright. Well, it seems to be the way we are heading as a culture.

  2. Women only offices?

    That would be interesting in the US. I doubt even women-only transportation would survive legal scrutiny, especially if it were publicly funded.

    These problems with women being groped on public transportation are due to the temporary and unpredictable nature of public transportation and the volume of people using the system. It would be very difficult to stop an individual groper before he faded into the throng of people.

    Offices are different because the same people show up every day and any inappropriate behavior can be dealt with as long as there is resolve to do so.

    Not only that, but would you really want there to be men only offices opening in response? Isn’t that what women have been trying to undo for the past century or so?

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