UK Politics

Labour MP says 'merit' in women-only train carriages

Woman buying train ticket Image copyright Getty Images

Women-only train carriages could combat the rise in sexual offences on public transport, a Labour MP has said.

Shadow fire minister Chris Williamson said it would be "worth consulting" on the policy after such crimes doubled in the past five years.

However, Labour colleagues have criticised the move as "normalising attacks".

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn first suggested the policy during his leadership election campaign in 2015.

Mr Williamson, MP for Derby North, highlighted figures from the British Transport Police, showing 1,448 sexual offences on trains had been reported in 2016-17, compared with 650 incidents in 2012-13.

He told PoliticsHome that women-only carriages - which have been tested in countries including Japan, Brazil and Mexico - could create a "safe space".

Later, he told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show: "I'm not saying we should go down this road at all, I'm merely suggesting that we consult on it.

"If there is support for it, then providing an additional carriage to provide that safe space for people if they wanted it, offering that choice I think is worth looking at."

He told the programme there was a "clear need" for better security and more guards to tackle the problem, but that gender-specific trains could be an "idea worth exploring".

But he agreed there was a need to "push for behaviour change" so that "everybody can travel on public transport in complete safety".

The UK has seen these types of carriages before. Dating from as far back as the 1840s, British Rail had ladies-only compartments to protect women from public and verbal harassment.

About 100 still existed on services between London and Essex when the decision was made to phase them out altogether in 1977.

Mumbai's Ladies' Special

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ladies' Special trains started in Mumbai but gender-specific services now run across India

Earlier this year, the Ladies' Special train in Mumbai, India, marked 25 years since its first journey.

The Mumbai service - since copied in other cities around India - is exclusively for women and runs alongside gender-specific carriages on other services.

Commuters shared their stories of the Ladies Special train with the BBC in an article from 2009.

Sangeeta spoke of women being harassed by men often on other trains: "They touch and pinch…[but]… here nobody passes lewd comments.

"Nobody teases us - it's great."

Student Charu Dua said: "We can laugh, we can sit where we want, we can do whatever we want, we feel free. We can sing a song, as loud as we want."

But one man, Satya Pal, told the BBC the policy was "not practical", because it meant men had to travel separately from their wives, daughters or sisters.

Laura Bates, from Everyday Sexism, a website which documents instances of daily sexism, told Victoria Derbyshire she would "never suggest segregation is the answer".

"It has to be about sending a clear message that this issue, which is already so normalised in our society, can be further normalised by the idea that women should simply go somewhere else."

The idea for women-only carriages was dropped by Mr Corbyn two years ago after fellow members of his party criticised it, including senior Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

And Mr Williamson's comments have again been attacked by colleagues.

Walthamstow Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted: "Can we make all carriages safe for all passengers rather than restricting where we can go?

"[It] doesn't keep women safe to restrict their movements - it normalises attacks. We need to be clear they [the attackers] are problem, not women's seating plans."

Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, said the policy was an "absolutely terrible idea".

She tweeted: "It is essentially giving up on trying to prosecute assaults. Also, men should be incredibly annoyed by [the] suggestion they can't control themselves.

"Sexual violence isn't about urges, it's about power. If you take your feminist cues from Saudi Arabia, you've gone wrong."

Labour's former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told BBC 5 live women-only train carriages were an "absolutely crazy idea" and women would find it "grossly insulting".

"The idea that they would be herded into separate carriages when the point at issue is a very tiny number of men who don't behave properly...

"And I doubt that many women would use them, so what you'd find is that the carriages would be empty."

The Women's Equality Party said it had not changed its opinion since the Labour leader first proposed women-only trains in 2015.

The party's co-founder, Catherine Mayer, tweeted that it was "not a good idea", as the party "vigorously pointed out" when it was first suggested.

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