Because apparently, making women feel safe is discriminatory against men.
There are many things in the world that it’s legitimate to feel p*ssed off about right now. The Brexit shambles. The treatment of asylum seekers in the UK, Europe and the US. The fact that – as we learned this week – the contraceptive pill’s ‘seven day break’ rule has no scientific basis, and was only introduced to please the Pope. Genuine outrages, all.
It’s remarkably hard, in contrast, to imagine feeling furious at measures introduced to make women feel safer from sexual assault. But, to paraphrase a line from the 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams: if you do something that helps women, the angry men’s rights activists will come.
This week, a man named Dominik Bayer sued the city of Eichstätt in south-west Germany because he took offence at women-only parking spaces that had been installed in a public carpark. These spaces were introduced following the attack and sexual assault of a woman near the carpark in 2016, after which the city council decided that women – understandably – might not feel safe in the area.
The designated spaces are well-lit and close to the carpark’s entrances and exits, so that women don’t have to walk long distances in the dark. However, while they’re aimed at women, men have never been prohibited from or punished for using the spaces. According to German publication Deutsche Welle, men who use the spaces cannot be prosecuted or fined, and the women-only signs are simply intended to encourage male drivers to park elsewhere.
“It’s been statistically proven that women are more likely to be victims of violent crime than men,” said Hans Bittl, the head of Eichstätt’s legal department.
He pointed out that the carpark is close to a nursing home, where female care workers often start and finish shifts late at night and early in the morning. “It’s all about safety.”
However, none of this was enough for Bayer. He argued that the parking spots violated the ban on gender-based discrimination laid out in Germany’s General Act on Equal Treatment – even though the Act make exceptions for the protection of privacy or personal safety.
Bayer also claimed that it wasn’t just men who were negatively affected by the existence of the women-only parking spaces. They also, apparently, discriminated against women – because they imply that women can’t run very far and need protection.
Here’s the thing. Across Europe, including in Germany and the UK, women are statistically vastly more likely to be sexually assaulted than men. According to the most recent available data gathered by police in the European Union, more than nine in 10 rape victims and more than eight in 10 sexual assault victims are women and girls, while nearly all of those imprisoned for such offences are male.
Given the context, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to introduce simple measures – such as well-lit, accessible parking spaces – to make women feel safer. The city of Eichstätt’s attempt to introduce women-only parking doesn’t suggest they don’t think women can run properly: it shows they understand the realities of being a woman in the world.
Satisfyingly, the Munich Administrative Court did not agree with Bayer that the parking spaces should be removed entirely. Instead, it simply asked Eichstätt council to install new signs that make it clear that the city only “requests” or “recommends” that the spaces be reserved for women, rather than insisting on it.
Hopefully, that will satisfy the men’s rights types of the world – while also fulfilling the much-more-important duty of making women feel safe. Who said compromise was impossible?
Images: Getty Images