Guangzhou and Shenzhen, two mega-cities in south China’s Guangdong Province, are making an effort to create a safer environment for female commuters, implementing plans to create “women-only” subway carriages aimed at protecting pregnant women and young children from the daily chaos which is rush hour, as well as lessening the threat of sexual assault.
On Monday, Shenzhen launched the trial initiative on several different subway lines in the city. Clearly marked with signs on both the train itself and the station platforms, these cars are only meant to be reserved for women during peak hours in the mornings and evenings. Guangzhou is expected to follow suit shortly.
June is the start of the hot summer months in China, and with the warmer weather comes lighter clothing. According to some officials, this in itself increases the potential for unwanted attention to be directed at female passengers. Su Zhongyang, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Guangdong Provincial Committee, proposed the idea of the segregated cars in the hope that it would help “to curb groping, protect pregnant women and babies, and make the facility more friendly to female passengers,” Life of Guangzhou reports.
In 2012, China Daily conducted a survey which suggested that more than 80% of people believe that sexual harassment is an issue on subways. 13.6% of the people polled claimed to have been the victim of such harassment themselves. These statistics are not all that shocking considering the number of cases in recent years, across China, involving sexual assault on the subway.
However, despite such evidence, there are many people that believe these new “women-only” cars are a bad idea. According to Women of China, some think that the plan does not allow for the most efficient allocation of resources, making an already stressful period of the day even more chaotic. Wang Xue, a member of Shenzhen’s Political Consultative Conference believes that such an initiative will, overall, reduce the effectiveness of the metro system.
“Public transportation resources are relatively scarce in Shenzhen,” says Wang. “Setting up female-only cars may intensify this problem. Segregating people by gender might lead to more congestion in other carriages since male passengers can’t enter them during peak hours.”
Not only are there concerns about the efficiency of the metro with these new cars, but some scholars believe that such a move sends the wrong message to both the perpetrators and the victims of sexual assault. The very same survey conducted by China Daily which suggested there was a problem also found that the people polled believed that women who dressed “scantily” were just as much to blame as the men who assaulted them. Some citizens have criticized the initiative to segregate train cars because they believe it will only further a false narrative about sexual harassment, which encourages people to place the blame on the victim rather than holding the culprits accountable for their actions.
In contrast to the idea that these new carriages are an improper solution to a very real problem, others think that they are not only impractical, but also entirely unnecessary. A spokesperson from the Guangzhou Metro noted that instances of sexual harassment are “occasional incidents,” and that “the city metro has been rated as having the lowest incident rate of offenses for years in a row by the international Community of Metros (CoMET).”
Guangzhou and Shenzhen are the first cities in China to try out priority carraiges for women on the subway. Only time will tell whether these “women-first” initiatives will be effective. But, hopefully, in the meantime, more local citizens will continue to step up to help make the world a more welcoming place for women and mothers in need — like these “pregnant” guys in Chengdu.
By Emma Abrams
[Images via NetEase]
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