Call me out of touch: but i hadn’t actually noticed that Jeremy Corbyn had mooted the idea of women-only carriages as part of a response to Violence Against Women until i was woken at half-past-ridiculous by an bright and cheery researcher from BBC West Midlands asking if i’d like to talk on the subject.
I’d like to pretend that my response was instantly intelligent, informed and to the point. In fact, it took a good strong cup of tea and a half hour of thinking about the proposal before I managed to assemble anything like coherent thought on the issue.
Which is that i really don’t think it’s a good idea.
Because – and here’s the problem – it’s an awfully seductive idea. If i had to identify one area of my life where i regularly feel endangered, it is when travelling. Not most of the time, but certainly late at night, when the carriages empty and at least one of my dwindling band of fellow-passengers turns out to be rude, obnoxious, intimidatory and probably drunk.
There was the time i found myself alone with the guy who alternated what i think was meant to be chat-up with a torrent of abuse and punching the air in front of his face: the time i was left crying and terrified in the loos on Kings Cross Station after being harassed by a posse of night club drunks; the guy who tried to touch me up outside Peterborough station.
Most recently, the drunken crowd i spent half an hour avoiding after Northern Rail decided to cancel – without any warning – a late night Saturday service from Mossley to Manchester.
It’s an experience all too recognisable to women: less so to men.
Women-only carriages are an obvious “something-must-be done” reflex, but they are not the answer. They are a retro step, suggesting that the only way women can participate fully in society is if they are set apart and wrapped in cotton wool, Worse, given a culture that still tends towards victim-blaming, they would likely create a further problem: the idea that women who fail to use segregated carriages are then somehow culpable if attacked.
Name the problem
The real problem when it comes to Violence Against Women is those who perpetrate that violence. In this instance, mostly (drunk) blokes. So let’s just say no to the obviously drunk and disorderly: if they wish to spend a night out getting tanked up, or generally being shouty and obnoxious, it seems fair enough to say they are not welcome in stations or on trains
Police public spaces
This doesn’t mean sending in more police: it just means having more staff on trains, in stations and elsewhere to support travellers. Trains without guards and stations without staff are very attractive to businesses wishing to cut back on their wage bill: but survey after survey suggests this is not what the public want.
On a station that was staffed, my latest saturday night experience would still have been a pain, but at least it would not have been quite so scary.
Think about people
Infrastructure – and cuts – are not just an economic issue. They affect how vulnerable people relate to their community as well.
Many local councils have been busy making public places less welcoming through measures such as cutting back on street lighting at night. They need to think again.
Meanwhile, i have had arguments over the years with rail companies over the hours of operation of their “day parking”. The company operating Peterborough car park, for instance, consider that the day ends at 00.59: so if you want to work or socialise late in London you end up paying either an extra day’s fee or parking some distance from the station.
The suggestion that this was an issue for women was met with incredulity by the company concerned and, as far as i am aware, they continue to operate this scheme unchanged.
(And don’t even get me started about wider access issues!)
To those whingeing about the money, how about placing the cost of extra measures where it belongs: on those who drink to excess? Given how much crime, mess and disorder are linked to alcohol, an additional levy on that substance seems more than overdue.
Be nice to Jeremy
I remain agnostic in the Labour election. But give Corbyn his due: he has not proposed women-only carriages. He has said that the issue of violence against women is important: that we need a public debate on possible solutions; and that we should not impose solutions, but ask women what they want.
That sounds fair enough to me – and is streets ahead of some of the radio commentary this morning by guys with plenty of opinions about how to keep women safe.
Women-only carriages are not the answer. But they’re not a bad question.