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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.

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.