By MELISSA WELLHAM
Sometimes I get scared catching public transport at night.
I wish this wasn’t the case. I wish that every time I had to wait at a bus stop or train station after the sun had set, I felt completely at ease. I wish I didn’t have to practice constant vigilance. I wish that I lived in a society were sexual assault and violence against women was less common than it is.
But would I feel safer catching a train that had carriages only for women and children? Would being ensconced behind pink doors, rather than the regular ol’ yellow, make me feel any differently?
The NSW Rape Crisis Centre and the transport union has released a plan for pink train carriages, which will be for women and children only. These organisations argue that the carriages should be introduced to give those most vulnerable at night “safe zones”, and are calling on the government to trial the carriages for the next three months, from 7pm to midnight.
There were 203 reported cases of sexual assault and other sexual offences on the rail network in 2010, according to the most recent data. Women aged 18 to 29 were the most likely to be the victims.
… Karen Willis, executive officer of the crisis centre, said many women refused to take trains at night because they felt unsafe.
”While it is always the offender who is responsible for their behaviour, this option … with access to the guard and security alarms, may encourage women and children to go out and enjoy all that our city has to offer without being concerned about what may happen in the train on the way home,” she said.
Women-only carriages have been successful – that is, popular – in other countries, such as Brazil, Japan, Egypt, Indonesia and India.
Australia would currently be the only western country to institute this segregating practice for women and their children. In the past, the UK provided some “Ladies Only” accommodation, the last of which ran in 1977.
Part of the controversy surrounding women’s only carriages, with pink painted doors, is that they may be seen as sexist. They automatically paint – forgive the terminology – men as the perpetrators of violence, and women as the victims. Although women are more frequently victims of sexual violence, creating women’s only carriages does nothing to protect men on public transport who are also at a higher risk of general physical assault.
Some have also viewed the suggestion of women’s only train carriages as tokenistic, if not patronising. And instead they’re calling for more visible security on trains and train stations that would to protect all people – whether male or female – from violence.
However, just because men are also physically assaulted, does not mean that measures to specifically address violence against women should be criticised. Obviously both issues need to be addressed – but sometimes, the different issues will require different solutions.