Urban Transformation

70% of women in Tokyo back single-sex transport amid safety concerns

A train of Seibu Railway Co., railway service unit of Seibu Holdings, arrives at a station in Tokyo June 25, 2013. Private equity giant Cerberus Capital Management LP and Japan's Seibu Holdings will square off in a shareholder vote on Tuesday over the U.S. firm's drive to shake up the board and win more influence. REUTERS/Issei Kato (JAPAN - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - GM1E96P0TEK01

Nearly 70% of women in Tokyo backed women-only carriages. Image: REUTERS/Issei Kato

Machel Reid
Writer, Reuters
Beh Lih Yi
Correspondent, Thomas Reuters Foundation
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Women in Tokyo are most in favour of having single-sex carriages on public transport, according to a poll in five of the world's biggest commuter cities released on Thursday, despite such policies face growing criticism.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 1,000 female travellers in Tokyo, London, New York City, Cairo and Mexico City found less than half were in favour of women-only sections on trains and buses to boost safety.

But nearly 70 percent of women in Tokyo backed single sex carriages that were introduced into the city in 2000 to combat a phenomenon commonly known as "chikan", or groping, on trains.

Image: Reuters

More than half of women in the Japanese capital said safety was their top transport concern but seven in 10 were confident they could now travel without sexual harassment or violence.

Women in Cairo and Mexico City also said safety was their biggest concern about using public and private transport and 60 percent and 55 percent respectively said women-only sections on trains and buses would improve their safety.

But less than 30 percent of women were in favour of women-only carriages in New York and London where the time and cost of travel were seen as more pressing issues than safety.

The poll, supported by Uber, comes as cities around the world increasingly bolster efforts to ensure women have safe, efficient transport to give them full and equal opportunities to jobs and education.

"You can protect yourself in a women-only car and there is less chance of you being harassed," Chihiro Asahi, a 22-year-old university student, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation outside the Shibuya train station in downtown Tokyo.

The policy, however, has prompted protests domestically and debates globally in recent years, with experts saying it promotes segregation rather than tackling the root cause.

"At best, women-only facilities provide only a momentary respite. Segregation does not stop sexual violence," said Washington-based anti-harassment expert Marty Langelan.

"The ethical response to violence is to stop the aggressors, not segregate the victims," added the author of "Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers".

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Men's Protest, Insurance Claims

Japan has been struggling to stop sexual harassment on trains. More than two-thirds of 1,750 groping or molestation cases reported in Tokyo in 2017 took place on trains or the stations, police figures show.

Women-only carriages provide female passengers with a "peace of mind", said a spokeswoman from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which runs one of the two main underground networks.

But the policy has been criticised in recent years, including by a group of men who boarded a women-only carriage earlier this year to protest what they described as a discriminatory practice, The Japan Times daily reported.

Some men have argued of being falsely accused of groping, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, and sought ways to protect themselves such as signing up for insurance which offers legal services in such situations.

Shigeya Sugimoto from the Small Amount & Short Term Insurance Association of Japan, an industry group, said there has been a spike in demand for such insurance products since their introduction in 2015.

Transportation expert James Leather from the Manila-based Asian Development Bank argued other measures should be in place to ensure a safe journey for women, such as extra security personnel or well-lit stations.

Transport for London (TfL) policy manager Mandy McGregor said there were no plans to introduce single sex carriages in the British capital despite some public debate.

"What we need to do is focus on the men's behaviour. It's a minority of men doing this so our focus is on catching them rather than asking women to do something different," she said.

Student Guadalupe Ortiz Dominguez in Mexico City, which was ranked as having the most dangerous transport system by the poll, said women-only carriages were not the answer.

"I don't think women-only carriages make a difference because everyone including men gets on them at rush hour and at night," said Dominguez who spends 1.5 hours a day on the metro.

"It also doesn't deal with the problem."

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