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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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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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