UK Politics

Jeremy Corbyn sparks women-only train carriage row

Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright Getty Images

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn has said he would consider women-only rail carriages to help stem a rise in assaults on public transport.

Mr Corbyn told the Independent he would consult women on the suggestion.

But the idea was attacked as outdated and unhelpful by his Labour leadership rivals Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.

And other critics, including Conservative women's minister Nicky Morgan, said it smacked of "segregation".

It comes after British Transport Police (BTP) figures suggested sex offences on trains and at stations had risen by 25% to record levels.

'Turning back clock'

Mr Corbyn said: "My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform to the bus stop to the mode of transport itself.

"However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome - and also if piloting this at times and [on] modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest."

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Media captionCommuter: "If it will help women travel more safely, of course it's a good idea"

According to the Independent, he said it was "simply unacceptable" that many females have to adapt their daily lives to avoid being harassed in public, including while using public transport.

The Independent said he would also call for a 24-hour hotline for reporting harassment and assault.

Rail minister Claire Perry suggested introducing women-only carriages was an idea worth considering in September last year. Compartments solely for females were last used on UK railways in 1977.

But a report last year for the Department of Transport, by Middlesex University, said bringing them back would be a "retrograde step" that "could be thought of as insulting, patronising and shaming to both men and women".

Mr Corbyn's proposal was seized on by his Labour leadership rivals, who said it would not help cut violence against women.

Yvette Cooper said it would be "turning the clock back, not tackling the problem".

'Society-wide strategy'

Ms Cooper, who is calling for stronger laws to protect women from violence and harassment, added: "We shouldn't have to shut ourselves away from men for our own safety.

"The staff needed to enforce the segregated carriages should be keeping all the carriages safe instead."

Andy Burnham said: "In this day and age, we shouldn't be even considering the idea of segregated train travel.

"As a dad of two young girls, I want to see a proper society-wide strategy on tackling violence against women."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Delhi has train carriages that are solely for female passengers

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the health select committee, said women-only carriages "just normalise unacceptable attitudes".

She added: "In countries where women are segregated on public transport, this is a marker for disempowerment, not safety."

'Good idea'

Everyday Sexism campaigner Laura Bates also rejected the idea, saying on Twitter: "Women-only carriages suggest harassment/sexual violence is innate & inevitable so women's responsibility to avoid."

But journalist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter Rahila Gupta said: "If there is a demand and it makes women feel safe then it's a good idea."

Countries that have introduced train carriages only for females include Mexico, Japan, India and Indonesia.

BTP recorded 1,399 sexual offences in 2014-15 in England, Scotland and Wales - up 282 on the previous year.

The force said the rise in sex crime figures was mainly because of a campaign to encourage reporting of these offences, which was launched in London in 2013 after a survey suggested that 90% of such attacks went unreported.

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