All-Women Public Transportation in India

Tired of sexual harassment in the form of pinches, stares, taunting, groping, and catcalling, Indian women now have access to all-women commuter trains, dubbed the Ladies Special, in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.

India would seem to be a country where women have shattered the glass ceiling. The country’s most powerful politician, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, is a woman. The country’s current president, a somewhat ceremonial position, is a woman. So are the foreign secretary and the chief minister of the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and the new minister of railways. India’s Constitution guarantees equal rights for women, while Indian law stipulates equal pay and punishment for sexual harassment.

The New York Times article concerning the new trains details the shocking increase in incidents of violence against women and kidnappings from 2003-2007, demonstrating the need for increased personal safety for Indian women. So far, “The eight new trains represent a tiny fraction of the nation’s commuter trains.”
But this act by the government, which runs the commuter trains, recognizes physical mobility as a tenet of women’s empowerment. It allows greater access to employment, metropolitan areas, and financial independence. With greater personal safety, it follows that women will be more comfortable and more willing to travel, as well as to enter the workplace. Finance Canada, a microloan organization, notes:

Women’s status within the home increases as their self-confidence and economic self-sufficiency grow. They demonstrate significantly greater empowerment as measured by physical mobility, ownership and control of productive assets such as land, involvement in family decision-making, and legal and political awareness and participation.

Similarly, public transportation has long been an American issue of class. Even in a recent episode of Mad Men, Joan, the head secretary, discusses the subway only with the disclaimer that her fiancé would “never” allow her to take it. Taking public transportation, like driving, is a step toward equal opportunity for women. through The backlash against the new train service, such as public urination by men in the trains and protests by men, suggests this is a significant change in the government’s treatment of women in India’s metropolitan areas.
But still, to stop men harassing women, the police removed the women instead of educating those who harass. Perhaps this is a first-world concern about a developing nation, but the message sent is that the presence of women causes harassment, rather than the idea that those who prefer to objectify women and project their sexual desires onto strangers cause harassment. And lastly, women deserve that increased personal safety regardless of the presence of men.
As said by a Dr. Kumari at the end of the NYT article,

“You really need to make every train as safe as the Ladies Specials.”

Related:
Women-only train cars in Brazil
Japanese men angry over women-only train cars
Tehran introducing all-women transportation
Taking up space: The Blank Noise Project
Subway gropers exposed
Raise your hand if you’ve been harassed on the subway

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31 Comments

  1. mikeymikemike
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Segregation of trains will be incredibly difficult for people in India to accept. The trains represent the ideas of post-colonial, that is, equality for gender, caste, and ethnicity; they also represent technological and societal progress. While some may view this division of the trains as a necessary evil, many will protest it.

  2. DeafBrownTrash
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    um no… You obviously know nothing about Indian society. I never lived in India, but my family is from there and I’ve visited India many times. I’ve actually seen gender-segregated coaches in Mumbai, but I don’t remember seeing that in Delhi. I have no idea how long they’ve been doing it, though.
    from my experiences, gender segregation is ENCOURAGED.

  3. Posted September 17, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I wrote about this yesterday on my blog. I definitely agree with the quote by Dr. Kumari but would take it a step further to say we need to make all public spaces that safe. An excerpt:
    Gender-based harassment of women on public transportation is widespread. There are many countries that have instituted women-only subway or train cars, buses, or taxi cab services because so many girls and women are groped and harassed by men. For example, some cities in Thailand, Mexico, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and UAE have women-only buses. Japan, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, and South Korea are examples of countries with women-only subway cars in their major cities. In some places in England, Russia, Australia, Lebanon, Iran, India, and the UAE, there are women-only taxi cabs with women drivers.
    In the U.S., transit systems in NYC, Boston and Chicago are all struggling to deal with high rates of harassment. Both NYC and Boston have anti-harassment PSAs on some of their subway cars.
    Women-only cars are only a band aid fix and does not fix the overall problem of men harassing women. Men will still harass them on the platform, in mixed sex car trains, on streets, in parks, etc. Separate cars can make women who can’t access women-only cars seem like fair game for harassing men. In Tokyo, which has women-only subway cars, there were 2,000 groping cases reported last year, 30% were of teenage girls. The crime is under reported, so imagine how much higher the figure may be. Again, Tokyo HAS women-only cars. This is not a solution.
    Men must be taught to respect women and not see them as available for comment, touching, following, and assault when they are in public simply because they are female.
    For contrast to the women-only trains, check out what Blank Noise is doing to address eve teasing in India.

  4. mikeymikemike
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    In the beginning of the Congress Party, Nehru based his policies on socialist and social justice ideals. Unfortunately these ideals declined during the Gandhi years and have now been abandoned by the majority of society. The BJP (not currently in power, but over the last decade they have) do encourage segregation over caste, gender and ethnicity.

  5. FrumiousB
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    the police removed the women instead of educating those who harass. Perhaps this is a first-world concern about a developing nation, but the message sent is that the presence of women causes harassment,
    The message I get is that the presence of men causes harassment, so remove the men and have women-only trains.

  6. aleks
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    In Tokyo they tried having women-only subway cars and one of the results was that people assumed women in the standard cars wanted to be harassed.

  7. rpa123
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    the police removed the women instead of educating those who harass. Perhaps this is a first-world concern about a developing nation, but the message sent is that the presence of women causes harassment
    I read this article yesterday; my reaction was also that there needs to be focus on educating the general population about how harassment is wrong and trying to curb it. Unfortunately that is just not realistic, and very much a “first-world concern about a developing nation.” Generally, the men who are harassing women are lower class, unmarried citizens. It goes back to the whole issue of how can we educate people who barely receive an education? Also, I don’t agree that the message sent is “the presence of women causes harassment” – my parents are from India and I’ve been there many times (I definitely would’ve appreciated these Ladies Specials trains!) I never got the feeling that society viewed harassment as caused by the presence of women. I think Indians are well aware of who is causing the harassment; these trains are just a partial, quick fix for a deep issue. At the end of the day though, I am in support of special spaces exclusively for women.

  8. ekpe
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    why do you support special spaces exclusively for women?

  9. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    How exactly do you know that the men doing the harassment are “lower class, unmarried citizens” – have you taken some sort of all-India sexual harasser survey?
    Sounds like you have some serious prejudices against working class people – and your opinion is informed by that bias, rather than by any sort of actual fact.

  10. rendition
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    There are several comments on here saying that this has or might make things worse for women on other trains or that this is sort of a bad idea in that its giving up on safety in general.
    I’m not convinced. My “gut” says this could be a positive move. It seems like a very strong statement about the importance of safety for women that could very well promote better behavior.
    I imagine that many men will be annoyed to some extent or another about this if only because they perceive that they are being more crowded because of this. I don’t see a backlash as inevitable though. The alternative is that they consider where do we go from here? How do we make these trains unnecessary? They cannot think that “oh women did this to me”, it is the society at large, men & women, which decided that these trains are a good idea. With that consensus as a baseline the goal needs to be to get rid of the trains in the future by solving the problems that made then necessary.

  11. dormouse
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me a lot of the community post a few days ago about women’s-only gyms. In my comment, I asked why gyms were different than any other spaces where women are frequently “oggled” (I understand the harassment in this article is much worse than oggling). I think the female-only space is a temporary fix, but it shouldn’t be used as a solution. It doesn’t address the underlying sexism and it seems to say that male harassment of women is natural and can’t be stopped.
    It’s hard to know what solutions to suggest, being that I don’t know what measures were taken before this one (surely they tried PSA’s before segregating cars?)

  12. Athenia
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    In Osaka, they have “women only boarding areas” i.e. women only cars. But in my experience, it’s not enforced and men occupy those cars as well.
    Moreover, the Japanese that I talked to about, they say no one really takes it seriously.
    I wonder if this sediment will occur in India.

  13. Emily
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Many German and Austrian trains have Damenabteilungen, that is, ladies’ compartments, in the cars that are separated into six-passenger compartments. I don’t really know the history or original purpose of them, but I must admit that I’ve felt more comfortable riding in them while traveling alone, especially when I was planning on going to sleep.
    Regarding the debates above, I think that many of the potential reasons posited for the harassment of women are probably true, for some of the harassers. What’s dangerous is to generalize, as some have, about a unified culture or class, without citing any concrete basis for those assumptions.
    This does remind me, however, of my main qualm regarding the norm for devout Muslim women of wearing the veil. Among the stated reasons I’ve heard for it have been that women’s bodies, faces, hair, are beautiful and sexual, and that they must protect men from lust by covering it up. This, of course, makes it the women’s responsibility to prevent men’s inherent lust, instead of requiring that men stop looking, or contain themselves.
    As with the trains, it seems that women are somehow asking to be the objects of lust, simply because they are present, or do not conceal themselves.

  14. spike the cat
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand the lukewarm response to this. This is the same principle as bouncers at strip clubs and sequestering women in brothels; and while most people agree that these solutions aren’t perfect or even fair, most also seem to agree that they are still necessary to reduce risks of harm.
    Apparently the government and businesses (to a lesser degree) have to police this egregious behavior or else it goes on unchallenged. Separation either with strict rules, barriers and bouncers; or, in this case, physical space, is the most practical and probably the fairest way to do this as we can all attest to the outcry and resentment from men who inevitably will argue that women “naturally” will overstep in making false accusations about harassment.

  15. mel
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    i was thinking the exact same thing that was finally commented at the end of the article which is that they should force the MEN to become educated about sexual harassment and why it is wrong instead of removing the women from everyday society. the problem is not the behavior of women, it’s the behavior of men! and i know here in the west we like to think that that does happen because we are oh so civilized, but the fact is there are still men who disrespect us in the same ways that these women are being disrespected.

  16. mel
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    i was thinking the exact same thing that was finally commented at the end of the article which is that they should force the MEN to become educated about sexual harassment and why it is wrong instead of removing the women from everyday society. the problem is not the behavior of women, it’s the behavior of men! and i know here in the west we like to think that that does happen because we are oh so civilized, but the fact is there are still men who disrespect us in the same ways that these women are being disrespected.

  17. Akinoluna
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    The police didn’t “remove” the women. It was the MEN that were removed, or more accurately, “excluded” from the new cars.
    I agree that the attitude of the men should be changed and that that is the real problem, but I also think that this is a good step towards that. If more women join the working world because they are provided a safe way to get to work, more men will be exposed to working women and get used to them being there.

  18. FrumiousB
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Because sie is not a complete asshat and understands that women have a right exist without the harassment of men.

  19. FrumiousB
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    women’s responsibility to prevent men’s inherent lust, instead of requiring that men stop looking, or contain themselves.
    Interesting that you use the example of a veil on a Muslim woman to illustrate this problem. Is this because you are Muslim yourself and you draw from examples closest to your daily life? Now, as a non-Muslim, I am more inclined to point out that exact same responsibility in my own culture, eg, the chorus of voices telling me that I deserve harassment if I wear a short skirt b/c I don’t need to search foreign cultures to find examples of women bearing the responsibility to stop men’s bad behavior.

  20. FrumiousB
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Generally, the men who are harassing women are lower class, unmarried citizens.
    This is just classist. Harassment occurs in all social classes and all marital states, and all educational levels. You don’t need either money or a degree to know how to behave yourself.

  21. ekpe
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    lol, furios B or whatever you call yourself, try again please. your snarky comment shed zero light on the issue. Try to be less angry in your responses. it may help you think about the question and a worthwhile response.
    as this matter is government sponsored, it seems to be using the state’s resources to the benefit of just one group. i dont know much about indian law, but if it’s based on the british common law here are similarities to the system in the US. If such a law was passed here, i’m sure it’d be overturned quickly with a lawsuit

  22. aleks
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Unless Feministing believes that some authority figure has the right to determine that someone else is or isn’t a man or woman, I wonder how this is supposed to be enforced? Are trans women entitled to ride in the reserved cars? How about “butch” women?

  23. rpa123
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I support special spaces for women because I support affirmative action in societies that have a long history of (in this case) discrimination against women.
    If such a law was passed here, i’m sure it’d be overturned quickly with a lawsuit
    Unfortunately that’s true, especially in some states where affirmative action has been rescinded (or perhaps never existed). Personally, I have always appreciated special spaces for women and I imagine that many others do as well. No one is forcing them to use these areas but it’s nice and comforting to know that they’re options.

  24. rpa123
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    I apologize for phrasing that incorrectly. What I meant was from what I noticed when being there, (yes, biased) the men I saw harassing women were what I assumed to be lower class and unmarried. This terrible mistake of stereotyping aside, I would like to hear if anyone has a proposal of how to effectively educate men who harass (and society as a whole) on why this is wrong. I wish there were more efforts, in every single country.

  25. rpa123
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    This is just classist.
    India, in some areas, is still a classist society. I agree that Harassment occurs in all social classes and all marital states, and all educational levels. You don’t need either money or a degree to know how to behave yourself. Again, I would like to hear if anyone has a proposal of how to effectively educate men who harass (and society as a whole) on why this is wrong. I wish there were more efforts, in every single country.

  26. A male
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    Excellent point. For example, in Japan, as it has been pointed out, there is no legal authority or penalty behind the “women only” cars. Also, unless the law in Japan has been changed while I have been gone, one’s sex at birth is the one on official ID, which creates awkward moments for transpeople in Japan, and would only create more if people were required to “prove” they are female to board those train cars, as transwomen and transvestites would be outed to the public.
    IIRC, there has been just one case in Japan of someone successfully petitioning to change their family register to reflect their transition to another sex.

  27. insomniac
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    There were already segregated buses in Chennai and I know this for a fact since I’m from there. Segregation isn’t something that is considered political when it comes to gender and especially when it comes to certain areas of extended crowded contact.
    So, to reiterate, segregation has already been accepted in India. I know many women who prefer going by women’s-only buses and I know of no men who are against it.

  28. insomniac
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    In India, transwomen (or the hijras or Aravanis, as they call themselves) can travel in women’s only modes of public transportation. I have never heard of an incident where they are barred from using women’s restrooms or other spaces.

  29. Phenicks
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    If this is about safety then education wont do anything to stop criminals from committing crimes, abusers from abusing, or are you willing to bet the safety of other women’s lives on it?
    If the women of India are happy about the segregation then I am happy for them. I remember reading how women were incessantly molested, rape dor sexually assualted in some way on Japanese trains and guess who got mighty pissed when talk of segregation loomed? THE MEN.

  30. Emily
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    You definitely have a point about western dress, too.
    Actually, I’m not a Muslim. But it’s a topic I’ve always been interested in, and I’ve spent a good amount of time reading about the various justifications for Islam’s approach to women, and trying to understand those feminist women who choose to wear the veil. Basically, I continue to pick at those topics I just don’t get.

  31. Jennifer S.
    Posted September 20, 2009 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    So… the government can only invest in preventing assault if it DOESN’T benefit one particular group? Better tell all those police cars lurking around the rich neighborhoods…
    I don’t think the government is trying to create “special treatment” for women. It’s trying to prevent assault and harassment in its public transportation system. Since this is a problem largely experienced by women, it makes sense for the government to focus on women to try to solve it. The focus on women and not the aggressors is in fact why I think it’s a stopgap measure. However, I also think that anything that can create safety for women in their commutes is a good thing.
    The only reason this seems odd is BECAUSE of sexism. Assault is, in fact, a crime, despite the prevalent idea that women should just shrug it off or deserve it anyway. Taking targeted actions to prevent assault is a perfectly logical thing to do… if you thing that women are people, at least.

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