On the way to work, squished and surrounded by the elbows and bags of 100 other people trying to get to work on the Transmilenio (Bogota’s main public transportation system), I try to practice my Spanish by reading the free daily commuter newspaper. This week, I came across a short column by Jaime Barrientos about the current proposal to have female-only ‘pink’ (I’m not even going to get into the gendered colour issue) carriages on the Transmilenio.
Like most public transportation systems in large cities around the world, the Transmilenio becomes impossibly crammed during peak hour and it’s not uncommon for some male passengers to take advantage of the crowded environs and ‘accidentally’ grab a buttock, a breast or – as hit the Bogota headlines last month – masturbate in front of female passengers. The primary solution that is being offered to address this issue is not, however, educating men to respect women and keep their hands to themselves; it’s female-only carriages.
The concept of female-only carriages has been implemented in plenty of other cities in the world – from Rio to New Delhi to Cairo – and has been around in Japan since 1912. And it appears that many women do, indeed, feel safer in these carriages. But, as Barrientos, argues, segregation is not the answer. “If we continue like this,” he argues, “we’ll have to build a wall like Berlin and the women will have to pass on the other side of the city.” As another commentator notes on the issue, “If this were the rule, we should have bars and clubs for women only…ponds and rivers just for girls, roads and bike paths only for females; we’d have to invent a ‘pink world.'” We came from an era of gender segregation in the past and women and men have fought hard over the past century to break down these divisions – I don’t see how rebuilding them will really help. I recall feeling the same way when I stepped into the ‘Womyn’s Room’ in my first year of university – this female-only space was meant to be a safe, creative and supportive environment for women to interact but I found it hostile, exclusionist and out of touch with reality, not to mention leaving no space in the world for transgender or intersex people.
Instead of segregation, I think parents, schools, communities, and governments have a responsibility teach men that harassment is not okay. Laura Bates has written a poignant blog on how harassment is never ‘just a compliment’ but is, instead, implicitly linked to violence. Sadly, Bate’s article is segregated in The Guardian’s ‘Women’s Blog’ so the chances of any men ever reading it are quite slim. Campaigns such as ‘What to Say‘ – which I posted about last week – help give people the tools to speak out against harassment. I don’t know if there’s a Spanish-language equivalent but there must some comparable tools available here.
As fellow commuters, all squashed together in the slinky red bus that they call the Transmilenio, it is all of our responsibility to speak out against harassment (no matter how small, harmless, or complimentary it may seem) to our friends, family, and even to that stranger whose hand just lingered on your butt.