August 26, 2015
It’s an oppressively hot day in Cairo. You’re wearing a long skirt and sleeves and need to get from the bank in the north of the city way back down to the south for lunch. You’ve already been cat-called.. twice…before 9 a.m.! Isn’t there a moment in the morning where no man has that on the mind?
After sidestepping some crooning guys in near the ticket teller, striding across the platform and stepping through the train doors, you’re free! No one makes eye contact with you in the car and you’re elated by it. You plop down between a young mother with her infant and an older woman. You adjust your headscarf. For the next 25 minutes, you’ve got smooth sailing through the city in a women-only train car.
Whoa whoa whoa, say what? Is this a thing? Yes. In Egypt, Japan, India and other countries. The U.K. is now considering #womenonlycarriages.
Cairo is a particular example of a highly gendered society in which street harassment is constant for most women. A New York Times article from 1990 says, “the segregation of the subway cars is part of a larger issue about the difficult position of those Egyptians who seek a new status for women in a society that is being pushed toward an older doctrine of female subservience by a revival of Islamic fervor.”
In the early 90’s, Egyptian women had to practically fight for a spot on commuter trains as some men said “women going to work are a prime source of congestion on public transport and joblessness among men.” The idea for a segregated train car was not only warranted, but maybe needed for safe female travel.
A Driven Media friend named Kate lived in Cairo for study abroad and loved the women-only train cars.
For many women throughout the world, especially those who live in urban areas, this train car sounds like a dream. When I heard about it, I thought, “you mean there’s a form of public transportation where I can just sit in peace and not worry about manspreaders or out-of-place comments about how I look that day!? YAS.”
Now before I go any further, I would just like to add a huge caveat to this whole post: women can be jerks and do jerky things in public. Further than RBF on female strangers, I would say that my day is not improved when women don’t make room for me on the bus or when a woman annoyingly talks on her phone in a waiting room.
Also, and the Washington Post article mentions this, but what about trans people? A lot of groups and individuals are left out of a dialogue that casts the world in a binary world of men and women. Also a binary in which men are harassers and women are the harassed.
The women-only train car supporters in the U.K. have been called patronizing, draconian and all sorts of other names. I truly think that the main problem with the separation is simply that it’s not equal.
What would He For She spokesperson (and talented witch) Emma Watson say? She has not yet commented on the proposal, but last year Watson wholeheartedly invited men to the feminist movement in her UN speech.
“No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality” – Emma Watson.
Segregated train cars do not seem like a step in an equal direction.
On Women’s Equality Day in the year two-thousand and fifteen, I do believe in a shared space where all people can exercise their right to public transport. That is just one place to start.