When I heard a few months ago that our leader Jeremy Corbyn had said that he would be open to consultation on the issue of the introduction of female-only train carriages in response the the recent sharp increase in the sexual assault of women on trains, I applauded him. I thought that it was wonderful that our leader was recognising feminist issues and really taking them seriously, but as the “Female-only train carriage debate” has progressed, my opinion has changed. Allow me to explain why.
I 100% agree that women need to be made to feel safe on public transport, however, female-only train carriages would centre around segregation and, as a socialist party, surely this goes against our core values? When has segregation ever led to anything positive? To start to segregate by gender now would be regressive and not only that, it would cause more problems than it resolved!
Women should not need female-only places to FEEL safe – women should BE safe in every place they go! Sexual assaults do not only happen on trains, they happen in the street, they happen in parks, they happen in bars, in schools, in workplaces, in shopping centres and just about everywhere else for that matter! If we introduced female only train carriages – what would be the next step in stamping out sexual assault? Would we then need to roll out female only versions of all of the places I have listed above? It just is not possible, is it?
Furthermore, I worry about what sort of message female only train carriages actually sends out – does it reassure women and tell them that they are safe? Or does it just confirm that actually they need keeping away from men because they are anything but safe and there is nothing anyone can do about it but keep them apart?
What sort of message would it send out to the offending men? That what they were doing was a bit naughty so the temptation has been removed because they cannot be trusted keep their filthy paws to themselves?
I think we need to address this issue at a much deeper level and to do that some uncomfortable questions will need to be raised. Questions like:
-Why has sexual assault increased? Is there not enough of a deterrent? Does the justice system need looking at? Do punishments need to be tougher? Do offenders need to be put on a register?
-Why particularly on trains? Is it as a result of privatisation? Less staffing? Fewer guards? Is it as a direct result of policing cuts and police visibility?
-Why have we done nothing about it before now? Why has it come to this being considered as a genuine solution in Great Britain in 2017?
-Why have women had to come to accept that they are vulnerable and that they are likely to to groped, touched, rubbed up against or inappropriately spoken to at some point or another in their lives like it is just another thing that “happens” and nobody can do anything about?
-Why is it down to women to avoid alleyways, parks and quiet streets because they are unsafe – why has our society, our government and our judicial system not made them safe and removed the threat?
-Why do so many cases of sexual assault go unreported?
It is time that we as a Labour party started asking these questions, discovering the answers and coming up with a viable solution. Female only train carriages, remedial in the short term as they might be, would not even scratch the surface on an issue that has historically been is continuing its presence as an epidemic in our society.