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


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