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Jeremy Corbyn's women-only carriages: the arguments for and against

The leadership frontrunner's proposal has riled up commentators across the political spectrum. Here's a rundown of the pros and cons. 

Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn made waves today with the announcement that he would consider carrying out a consultation on maybe& introducing women-only carriages on tubes after 10pm. Crazy, we know. What a firebrand. 

But the real reason the suggestion is already so controversial, despite its tentative nature, is that it implies that Corbyn thinks women-only carriages could be solution to harassment on public transport. And as we all know, suggesting an imperfect solution to something like this is far, far more offensive than not attempting to tackle it at all (see: the government for the past five years; most governments prior to it).

Corbyn is expected to make a speech today which will also pledge to set up a campaign combating street sexism, a 24 hour harassment hotline and the appointment of women's safety officers in local councillors. He's expected to say:

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

The idea of women-only transport in Britain is nothing new: most recently, Conservative transport minister Claire Perry floated the idea in 2014, but it was never taken forward. 

But given that a consultation may take place under a Corbyn-led Labour party, it's worth knowing the arguments and evidence for and against women-only carriages. So: could segregated carriages on post-10pm tubes successfully drive down transport harassment? 

Here's why women-only carriages are great

They're already in use in many countries, including Brazil, Egypt, India, Russia, Japan and Thailand.

Where they're in use, they seem to work. According to a report put together in February by Middlesex University, British Transport Police and the Department for Transport, there's a lack of conclusive evidence on whether women-only carriages reduce harassment, but as part of a 2008 women's safety campaign in Mexico City, they cut the number of sexual harassment cases from five to one a day. In Japan, a survey of 155 women found that over half would like to see more women-only carriages.

A sizeable number of London's women say they'd feel safer in a women's carriage. A 2014 poll from YouGov and the Thompson Reuters foundation found that 45 per cent of surveyed women in London would feel safer on segregated transport, compared to seven in 10 of women surveyed around the world. 

Here's why women-only carriages are not so great

They imply that women should take measures to secure their own safety, rather tackling harassment at its source. This is a popular view on Twitter this morning, and with the two female leadership candidates

Would they be enforced properly? In Mexico City, 44 per cent of women did not agree that women-only carriages were safer in a 2013 survey. Over half of these said it was because they weren't well-guarded, and men didn't respect the segregation. Tubes are notoriously staff free: without a security guard, it's hard to see how the carriages would be kept segregated.

The carriages could be trans-exclusionary, depending on the method of enforcement. In today's society we broadly accept that gender is more complex than "he looks like a man, so he is a man and shouldn't be allowed on this carriage". This is especially problematic considering trans people might need the protection offered by the carriages just as much, if not more than, cis women. 

In some places where women-only transport is in use, it's not very popular. In Pune, India, only 2 per cent of women thought single-sex buses were a good idea. In Sao Paolo, women have argued that they should be able to feel safe in public without boarding the "pink train". 

The British Transport Police/Middlesex University report argues that the introduction of women-only transport would be viewed as a "retrograde step in Great Britain, which could be thought of as insulting patronising and shaming to both men and women". Pretty damning conclusion, there. 

Other solutions might work better. Higher staffing levels, prominent CCTV and education campaigns have all been proposed as measures which could also drive down harassment. They would have the benefit of targetting perpetrators, rather than encouraging victims to protect themselves by boarding a separate carriage

So in summary: women around the world broadly agree that they'd feel safer on women-only carriages. But the question of how you enforce them, and whether they send a negative societal message, could outweigh the benefits. 

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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