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Do we need women-only train carriages? MP Jeremy Corbyn considers segregated system to combat sexual harassment

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Labour leadership frontrunner, Jeremy Corbyn has said he would consider women-only carriages on trains to tackle harassment against women on public transport.

The suggestions come after the latest British Transport Police statistics reveal a 25% rise in sexual offences on pubic transport – taking the stats to a record high.

The left-wing Islington North MP says: “The excellent work of individuals, campaigns, and groups like Everyday Sexism and Stop Street Harassment has highlighted just how prevalent street harassment is in our country today and the extent to which many women feel uncomfortable, anxious, and unsafe just going about their daily routines.”

“It is simply unacceptable that many women and girls adapt their daily lives in order to avoid being harassed on the street, public transport and in other public places from the park to the supermarket,” he continues.

“This could include taking longer routes to work, having self-imposed curfews, or avoiding certain means of transport.”

Corbyn advocated for the women-only carriages on the basis that “some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women only carriages.”

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However, the leadership contender has been keen to press that the ideas would only go through if it was something women themselves wanted, saying:

“My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform, to the bus stop to on the mode of transport itself. However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome - and also if piloting this at times and modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.”

Corbyn has also put forward suggestions for a 24-hour hotline on which women can report any abuse they have encountered or witnessed and allocated cabinet members for women’s safety on local councils.

Although Corbyn’s considerations are primarily concerned with stemming an apparent rise in harassment, the BTP have pressed that the rise in figures could be due to a rise in reporting, rather than a rise in the crimes themselves. A 2013 survey showed that at the time 90% of attacks were going unreported.

Nonetheless, street harassment is a genuine concern for many women, and most of us will be familiar with picking the busier tube carriage at night, holding our keys in our fists as we walk home, and even forking out for taxis to avoid the night bus.

A women-only train carriage in Kyoto, Japan

A women-only train carriage in Kyoto, Japan

In September last year, rail minister, Claire Perry, proposed gender segregation on public transport, and counties including Japan, Brazil and India have all adopted women-only modes of transport.

Much of the whirlwind Labour leadership contest has centered around candidates' approaches to women’s issues and the media’s approach to female leaders.This week alone has seen a backlash against an article which asked whether or not Liz Kendall and Yvetter Cooper ‘looked like’ leaders, and allegations of sexism directed at Andy Burnham after a Freudian slip on a 5Live interview led people to question whether or not he thought it was ‘time’ for a female leader.

Corbyn’s women-only carriage consideration has been met with trepidation, with many questioning whether it’s right that women should be hidden away to avoid assaults.

Tory MP for Totnes and chair of the health select committee, Sarah Wollaston, took to Twitter to complain about Corbyn’s suggestion, saying:

Conservative women’s minister, Nicky Morgan, said the idea made her “very uncomfortable,” telling Sky News:

“It seems to me not to tackle the issue, which is that women should feel safe and be free from harassment…it seems to say ‘let’s segregate people’ rather than tackling the issue.”

The last time women only compartments existed on trains in the UK was in 1977. 

Images: Rex Features, Thinkstock.

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