Jeremy Corbyn has said that to combat sexual harassment, he would consider introducing women-only rail carriages. This openness towards women-only carriages serves as openness towards a form of discrimination which attempts to curtail the effects of a major problem rather than its cause. In actuality the move may serve to undermine gender equality, fighting fire with fire when in fact people should be universally respected regardless of their gender.
There is an existing and growing problem in terms of sexual offences on public transport. In 2012-13, there were 925 incidents. This increased by 21% the following year to 1,117 and a further 30% in 2014-15 to 1,399 reports. The vast majority of these cases are perpetrated by men against women and subsequently it appears that there is an underlying issue that needs addressing. However, it is important that this issue is challenged at basic roots, educating on what is an acceptable and unacceptable way of treating people – any people – full stop. Creating a physical barrier for women to be secured against potentially threatening men shouldn’t be a norm to be welcomed into our culture. If there is a present threat, then it would be better for there to be greater security in terms of police or trained guards on public transport rather than bringing about the proposed policy.
Implementing a separate carriage system would be making use of statistical discrimination. It would not be prejudiced – there is some basis for having reason to believe an aggressor is more likely to be male and a victim female. However, by building upon previous incidents and offering women the chance to isolate themselves in a separate carriage, there is a risk of affirming the consequent. Perceptions become propagated and while once all aggressors are male, and all victims female, soon all males are aggressors and all females are victims. Producing these results may appear far-fetched but by normalising separate compartments on a premise of gender-based violence, it could be that characterisations become ingrained and the origins of sexual violence become ignored. Realistically, virtually no one wants to share a compartment with someone sexually aggressive.
Introduction of such a measure creates further direct problems that would not exist were the rules in place to remain gender-blind.
With separation, stigma enhances for men who feel at risk of harassment on public transport due to the normalisation of only women being entitled to a secure zone. It might be seen as impermissible to harass someone who opts for the female-only compartment, but permissible to harass a woman who opts to sit in a communal compartment. If an area is communal then anyone should be able to use it freely, but by have a specially secured area, this implies an insecure area. As a society we are progressing to a point where gender is no longer considered simply binary. Will transgender people be subject to scrutiny if they choose to sit in a safer carriage and thus feel uncomfortable in any area which they might sit in?
Sexual harassment needs to be tackled firmly. It is clear that there is something wrong in the system, especially given the apparent rise of public transport offences. But this problem needs to be dealt with at its roots. The option that Jeremy Corbyn has proposed fails to confront the causes of harassment, and thus seems distinctly regressive.