Women-only Facilities Feasible Or Not
Since yesterday was the International Women's Day, I decided to write up this article women-only facilities and its feasibility in our society. I would like to clarified that I'm not a female, hence my opinion and view may not even reflect a woman's view but I'm writing this from a Malaysian perspective and as a member of this society.
On my visit to Philippines a few years ago, my parents and I boarded the Manila LRT. And during the ride, we felt quite strange that only females were on board the train and everyone were looking at us. Initially we thought to ourselves maybe it was normal because we're tourist? That was until we get off the train and found out that the carriage we were in was a female-only carriage! To our relieve, we found out that the normal carriage was extremely cramp! That was my first experience with a public transportation that is gender segregated.
And then fast forward to today, we now have special parking spaces, train coaches, gyms and hostels exclusively for women in Malaysia. A few years ago, a German friend asked me if the female carriage in Malaysia was because of religious reason, explaining that no women's right group in Germany would campaign for anything similar.
I struggled to answer that question because I think most Malaysian (at least myself) are fed with so much news about gender segregation from the media that we can't even differentiate which is done on the basis of protecting women and which is for religious purposes.
I would also like to clarified that there are different religious teaching, for example more conservative/orthodox teaching or the more liberal teaching, so that is up for debate as well. But for the sake of this discussion, we would assume that the gender segregation of cash counter in Kelantan was done because of religious purposes.
Supporter for segregation of these facilities argued that policy such as this protects women act as a deterrent from any potential sexual harassment or violence that may occur. However, in the fight up to equal rights between sexes, a practise such as these seems to go against the very basis of equal rights. And last year, UK's main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn faces a backlash over a proposal for women-only train carriages within its own party, with critics condemning proposal as an admission of defeat in fight for women’s safety.
Just got off tube. Majority of passengers women. Why should we have to shut ourselves away to stay safe? Stop #VAWG instead #segregation
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) August 26, 2015
Note: The tube mentioned simply refers to the London Metro System
Later, in a statement, Cooper said women-only carriages would be “turning the clock back, not tackling the problem”.
So what do they mean by a defeat in fight for women's safety? It simply means that being a woman in our society is still not safe and woman could not freely walk on the streets or take a bus/taxi alone.
“They experience and fear various types of sexual violence in public spaces, from unwanted sexual remarks to rape. It happens on streets, in and around public transportation, schools and workplaces, in public sanitation facilities and parks.
“This reality reduces women’s and girls’ freedom of movement and their ability to participate in school, work and public life.
“It also negatively impacts their health and well-being as well as limits productive interactions between genders that expand understanding and opportunities,
“Simple things such as ensuring streets and parking lots are well-lit, emergency response buttons are easily accessible, easy access to and from a location, easy movement within locations and visibility of entire space are some of the features that create a safer environment for everyone," said United Nations Development Programme (Gender Equality and Women Empowerment) programme manager Suriani Kempe.
Kempe also acknowledged that gender-segregated facilities should only be a temporary measure to address safety concerns and followed up with long-term efforts.
In my experience of living in Klang Valley for the past 18 months, I can slowly understand the pros and cons of segregation of train carriage. If my memory didn't fail me, I understand that each train will usually have 2-3 female-only carriage on the KTM Komuter line. Often times, I see a lot of empty seats available but it's in the female-only section which leads to wastage of resources.
And if a group of friends with males and females in the group travel together, they had only 2 choices, either to sit in separated carriage or for the female companion to sit in an unmarked carriage surrounded by mostly male riders.
In reality, if a couple traveled on the train, usually the female will sit in the unmarked carriage and then be surrounded by a bunch of guys which makes it even creepier.
And from my observation, when a couple with kids travel on the train, the father/male rider will usually sit in the female-only carriage with the family despite knowing he's breaking the rule.
But of course, with the women-only carriage, ladies do not need to share the same carriage with other male riders during peak hour which will reduce chances of being harassed or molested.
My own conclusion is that everyone should be able to travel without fear of physical or verbal attacks, and we have much to do as a society to reach that point. And that women-only carriage can only be a temporary solution.
With so many conflict of interest between different parties, not to mention different cultural settings of Malaysian from different races. There are bound to be difference in opinion in this society that we live in but one thing for sure is that there need to be a general consensus, especially from our parliamentarian for an equal society for all. One more thing to add is that our parliamentarians will need to STOP sexist statement which would otherwise harm all the progress that we've made so far.
So, do you think more Women-only infrastructure is a step forward or a step backward towards gender equality? Leave a comment below.. & Happy International Women's Day!
***This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of DiscoverJB.