Does women-only transportation work?

Guatemala is now the 15th country to provide all-women transportation, reigniting the separate but equal debate. The new pink buses will offer a safer ride in a country where violence against women is at an all time high, but some critics have doubts as to whether they will actually help solve the root problem.

Muna Khan, editor of Al Arabiya English, recently wrote an article in which she argues that women-only transporation isn't enough unless accompanied by a wider campaign against harassment and violence:

"Women who use public transport anywhere in the world are subjected to sexual harassment with the difference being that some countries take the offense seriously (punitive action) while others address the issue by introducing women-only sections-by cordoning off sections or having women-only vehicles."

Simply providing separate transportation will not change deeply ingrained attitudes toward the treatment of women. Khan stresses that governments must focus on why women are being attacked and strengthen laws to prosecute individuals who sexually harass female riders.

Two years ago, I spent the summer working in Cairo and the women-only metro cars provided a daily safe haven from the ritual street, cafe and market harassment. But in reality, the second I stepped out of the car, nothing had changed. And when I made the mistake of riding in the mixed-gender cars? I was asking for it. My morning commute would turn into a grope-fest.

When asked for her opinion on Guatemala's new buses, Ana María Cofiño of the feminist collective La Cuerda told IPS:

"Specific actions like this are taken, but violence in other areas like the workplace or the streets, or the fact that women are at risk of being raped at any time, are not addressed."

But in some cases, combining anti-harassment campaigns with female-friendly transportation has been ineffective. Japan's trains have, for years, been epicenters of sexual harassment, with thousands of women reporting groping in the over-crowded train cars. In 2004, after several attempts to advertise police information and groping laws in stations, creating poster campaigns asking victims to speak out, and revising ordinances that threatened gropers with jail time, Japan introduced a large-scale, last-resort women's only train car initiative.

Women-only transportation is not the debate -- the need for such transportation is the real issue. Merely placing a band-aid on a deep wound does not foster a long-term healing process. But until serious cultural or legal measures are taken to ensure women's saftey on public transportation, many women argue that Guatemala's pink buses and Mexico's pink taxis are necessary alternatives.

Junko Kimura/Getty Images


Countries where you could go to jail for calling the president a dick

Just in case you've been wasting your morning reading about actual important things, journalist Mark Halperin has been indefinitely suspended from his gig as a commentator on MSNBC for referring to President Barack Obama as a "dick" on television this morning. (To be fair, he actually only called him "kind of a dick.")  

People can disagree about whether the network's punishment was too harsh -- I would imagine it's something of a badge of shame at MSNBC to not have been suspended at this point -- but as he kicks back this 4th of July weekend, Halperin should be thankful he doesn't live in one of the many nations where much milder insults can land you in prison.

In Thailand, a country with some of the world's harshest lesè majesté laws, insulting the monarchy can bring a sentence of three to 15 years in prison, and the scope of the law is pretty wide: A U.S. citizen living in Thailand was arrested last month for posting a link critical of the king on his blog. It's safe to assume there will be consequences for the new WikiLeaks cables describing some fairly depraved behavior from Thailand's rowdy royals.

In Turkey, where it's illegal not just to criticize the government but "Turkishness" in general, a British artist was fined  for placing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's head on a dog's body in a series of collages.

In Iran, a prominent journalist was recently sentenced to 16 months in prison for calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a megalomaniac. In pre-revolutionary Egypt, you could go to jail for four years for insulting Hosni Mubarak. It was even a jailable offence to insult foreign heads of state, as the late author Idris Ali learned when he wrote a novel critical of Muammar al-Qaddafi. In Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, you can be arrested just for sending an email with pictures of the president's mansion. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has also used laws against insulting the president to silence his critics in the media. 

It's not just high-profile journalists who find themselves falling afoul of these laws. A South African miner living in Zambia was arrested in 2007 for cracking jokes about the country's president with his buddies at work. In comparatively liberal Lebanon, a man was arrested last year for calling President Michel Sleiman a "hypocrite" and "the worst kind of failure" on Facebook. 

But it's not just autocracies or developing countries where people have watch what they say about the head of state. In France, the crime of insulting the president can carry a fine of up to 45,000 euros. A 21 year-old man was arrested for an unspecified insult against President Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to a rough Paris suburb last year. 

In the Netherlands, there were two seperate arrests in 2007 of citizens calling Queen Beatrix a whore. And, in 2006, Poland launched a national manhunt for a man who farted loudly in response to a request from police to show more respect for then President Lech Kaczynski. 

So while calling the president a dick on cable television is, perhaps, not the most eloquent or constructive form of political criticism, it's good to know that you can't go to jail for it.