Should Seoul’s Subway Have Women-Only Sections?
In response to an increase in reports of sexual harassment, Seoul, South Korea’s capital, has announced that its No. 2 lines will have one women-only car starting in September. While a previous online vote showed positive public reaction to the separate cars, the reaction online has since been strongly in opposition to the idea, as noted on Global Voices, with many seeing the women-only cars as an adequate response to a larger problem.
The Seoul subway is actually “one of the fastest, safest and most convenient ways to commute the busy streets” of the capital city, especially late at night and at rush hour. But reports of sexual harassment have increased by 22 percent from last year, with 550 sexual crimes reported to the subway police during the first five months of 2011. Another report found that, in 2010, the number of sex offenders increased to 1,192.
Many women have been objecting to having women-only cars, with one commenter, Seo Yong-hwan (@a2n5) saying that the separate cars amount to “reverse discrimination” and could make commuting more inconvenient for women. With specific women-only subway cars, women would be limited to ride in only certain subway cars, a limit to their ability to travel quickly and freely on the subway. Another South Korean woman doubts that people will follow the rule of “female only car” as they already disregard signs asking them to reserve seats for “for weak, old, disabled and pregnant women.”
Lee Eun-sang, director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, points to a number of other problems the women-only sections give rise to:
“First of all, I doubt whether it will be practically effective. If a woman is accompanied by a male friend, should they take separate compartments? If a man boards the female-only section, will he be punished?”
“More importantly, I don’t think gender segregation is the right direction to solve sexual harassment problems. It indicates sexual harassment can be prevented only when men and women are in separate spaces,” she said.
Some men have also called the creation of the women-only cars “discrimination” and said there should be male-only sections as well.
In 1992, the South Korean government tried to have a women-only section in the subway, but soon abandoned the idea as people did not follow the rule, says the Korea Times.
What’s really needed, as RaphyRyu wrote on the online forum Daum Agora, is to actually enforce existing laws about subway security and strengthen subway security:
The purpose of women-only compartments would be to protect women from sex crimes. If they are really determined about preventing crimes against women, they should rather strengthen the subway security and enforce the existing law with severe punishment, instead of isolating women in one enclosed area. This new system may seem like ‘preventing crimes on a fundamental level’ at first glance, but in fact, it is none other than ‘running away from the problem’ because they are incompetent. Think of the opposite case; women riding ordinary compartments or taking subway during hours where there are no women-only subway cars. (When something happens to women in those cases,) they are left unprotected.
Lee of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center also said that Seoul should instead make “efforts to create a social atmosphere where sexual violence victims can report the crimes more actively, authorities deal with the cases more rapidly and the offenders are more severely punished.”
Should Seoul — should any city — have sections in public transportation designated only for women ? Are such sections just the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a growing concern about sexual harassment of women in South Korea and not addressing the real issue, changing attitudes about women and gender inequality?
Photo by yannc