Women-only train carriages are a terrible idea

Almost exactly two years ago, Jeremy Corbyn took a whole load of pain for daring to suggest that women-only train carriages might be part of the solution to combating sexual assaults on public transport.

At the time, I looked at what he actually said and decided against castigating him – although I was and remain convinced that it is a terrible idea.

First of all, it’s pretty good to see a male politician think that the issue of sexual assault on public transport is an important one that we should do something about. Where were the other politicians, including Liberal Democrats, when the statistics showing showing an increase in reported sexual assaults came out last week?

I also gave him credit for at least saying that he needed to consult women to come up with a firm view.

Labour MP Chris Williamson has not been quite as sensitive. He’s waded into the debate, following figures which show a doubling of sexual assaults on public transport.  

He told Politics Home that

I really don’t see how it helps to segregate women rather than concentrate on changing the behaviour of the men who assault them.  Apart from anything else, the sort of low-life who attacks women in this way would be likely to assume that any woman not travelling in a women-only carriage was simply asking for their attention.

A solution which discourages women from sharing the same space as men is not in my view desirable.

I also think that those of us who use public transport should look out for our fellow travellers. We tend to bury ourselves in our now thoughts and resolutely avoid any sort of interaction with the world around us. Keep an eye out for women who look uncomfortable and intervene to help them. If you see someone being groped on a crowded carriage, get up and offer them your seat or your space and report the perpetrator. These people need to be convicted.

If you think this is somehow exaggerated,  have a read of Louise Jones’ post for Bea magazine published back in 2013. It’s a harrowing account of horrendous behaviour.

Lib Dem peer and former equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is pretty much of the same opinion as me:

All women have the right to be in public where they please and when they please and should never have to put up with being assaulted. The idea of women-only carriages is so flawed because it suggests that it is women’s responsibility to avoid this behaviour by taking themselves out of the wider public space.

If you are unlucky enough to experience this sort of assault, there is support there for you. The British Transport Police advise reporting it and you can even report incidents by text.

There has been some success at bringing people to justice – but that can only happen if we are willing to report things that we experience or witness. That’s the answer. Segregating women to supposedly keep us safe is insulting and paternalistic. It would be a massive step back for our society and one we must avoid..

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Frances Alexander 23rd Aug '17 - 5:51pm

    Lynne Featherstone has the answer!

  • @ Caron, “All women have the right to be in public where they please”.

    Yes, of course, and doesn’t that include sitting in a women’s only carriage if they so choose ? Would it be compulsory for a woman to sit in a Women’s only carriage ? No, of course not. So much for corralling.

    “Catch and convict the offending men!” Lyn Featherstone. Yes, of course, but try doing that in a carriage full of rowdy half drunken football fans on their way home on a Saturday evening – or in some cases going even on a Saturday morning. I’ve seen it – it’s real.

    I speak as a man who has a wife and four daughters (one of whom is heavily pregnant with twins, and another who is breast feeding twins and chooses to have privacy).

    Sorry, Caron, but this is knee jerk stuff and I wonder if you would have said it had the suggestion come from a Lib Dem MP ?

  • paul barker 23rd Aug '17 - 6:54pm

    Its good to see an article on this but I would be very careful how we report the figures. Theres been a doubling of reported assaults, that might mean that victims & others have become more willing to complain or the authorities more willing to listen.

  • Putting aside how terrible the idea is from a moral or intellectual stance – seeing as the vast majority of UK trains are massively overcrowded, how would it even practically work….

  • @David Raw – “Yes, of course, but try doing that in a carriage full of rowdy half drunken football fans on their way home on a Saturday evening – or in some cases going even on a Saturday morning. I’ve seen it – it’s real.”

    Yes it is, but why should only women have the ability to remove themselves from that situation? I, as a man, would like to be guaranteed that I can travel on public transport without encountering intimidating or abusive behaviour. I would also like to take my grandchildren and be guaranteed they won’t have to witness drunken behaviour or listen to bad language.

    The problem is not gender, it’s bad (and sometimes illegal) behavior – full stop. Since it’s not practical to segregate passengers into “well behaved” and “badly behaved” carriages, the only alternative is to properly discourage abusive behaviour of all kinds.

  • @ Nick Baird I’m all for banning alcohol from railway stations and trains, but no doubt the privatised train companies will scream if it affects their profits……. Just as an airline can refuse access to a drunk passenger the same could apply at the platform gates. Some of them are also determined to have driver only trains with no guards.

    Can’t get in the way of profits in pursuit of the joys and benefits of the market economy can we ?

    Banning it on the tube was one of Johnson B.’s few successes.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Aug '17 - 9:11pm

    “I wonder if you would have said it had the suggestion come from a Lib Dem MP ?”

    @David Raw: Yes. They would have got it worse.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Aug '17 - 9:28pm

    Caron writes with a sense of outrage and a sense of responsibility. The pointing out that the responsibility rests with the people behaving in this way towards women.

    David Raw is going over the top here not Caron, not in his support for women only trains, or sections, but in his reaction to the calmer tone herein.Also, as most of these attacks or assaults were as much on the very nationalised tube, what is the necessity in the usual rant about profit, about as relevant as cricket was in the Rotheram thread ?

    I think this whole lack of safety in public is an issue. I am to the right of most ,on violent crime and criminality that does harm, or is it merely Mill Liberal, or is it authoritarian left, not sure, but on this the need is for policing, call it security guards, conductors, whatever, David is right in his attack, wrong in his villains as always the private sector. Ironic as the best security is in private clubs and supermarkets, better than on our streets. Indeed, women and children are safeist in shopping are safest as malls !The police have been at times nowhere to be seen on public transport in an age, yet we have transport police, do they patrol ?!

    We need public order and private freedom, not public free for all and private snooping.

    This party as all,parties on criminality in public, needs to toughen up.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Aug '17 - 9:31pm

    Should read , women and children are safest in shopping areas, safest in malls.

  • Some trains are massively overcrowded and stupid restrictions on who can use which carriages wont help. What would help is if guards can actually get up and down trains.

  • “I wonder if you would have said it had the suggestion come from a Lib Dem MP ?”

    @David Raw: Yes. They would have got it worse.

    Even if it was Alex Cole-Hamilton or Jo Swinson?

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '17 - 7:38am

    I remember women only carriages in the 1960s on commuter trains in London run by British Rail. They tended to be at one end of the train, so that their occupants were able to be first to disembark onto a platform containing a mix of people, so their effectiveness was limited. There were never enough of them for all the women who wanted to travel to work.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '17 - 7:55am

    Practicality on the London Underground? Lots of new carriages?

  • I absolutely agree with Caron. Thank you for this article. In particular I think the following is a real possible problem;

    Apart from anything else, the sort of low-life who attacks women in this way would be likely to assume that any woman not travelling in a women-only carriage was simply asking for their attention.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Aug '17 - 9:32am

    David Raw: On-train catering is generally run at a loss; while the market for sales is captive it is also rather small with a limited time window. Booze *is* often banned on trains that carry revellers and match-goers, arguably the ones on which booze sales are most likely to be profitable. The idea that there is any profit motive in permitting alcohol on trains or at stations is a specious one.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '17 - 9:40am

    Shirley Williams MP wrote about an experience in a crowded voting lobby in the Commons. Other female MPs had suffered the same thing, but high heels were fashionable and they all wore them the next day to try to identify an offender by stamping hard on his foot. An embarrassed male MP (Tory) explained that he was suffering from gout.

  • This is becoming a silly season staple. Not sure why. I’m sure there are other dumb ideas

    Sarah Noble
    “these sorts of accommodations can’t exist without recognition of unconscious bias”
    I don’t think there is anything unconscious about the reaction to these sorts of things, when people are flustered angry, there are train problems and more peoepl than will fit are trying to squeeze on to a train, there will be those who start suggesting forcefully that the women should be trying to get on the women’s carriage.

    As is the case if there are two good candidates for a seat; if the woman is not chosen she can stand in the neighbouring constituency (an AWS), but if the man is not choses he won’t be able to stand locally and either have to not stand or to stand far away from home. Then you will incentivise choosing the man assuming the woman the woman is willing and able to take the AWS seat. These segregations ideas have unwanted consequences but it is hardly unconscious.

  • Well said Caron. As a regular traveller in London who was assaulted on three occasions in packed tubes where the offence could not be seen. I agree. I don’t want to have to seek out a particular carriage just to feel “safe”. lots of women have the same experience. I know someone who was assaulted so regularly she took to wearing a backpack. I found standing g sideways and not allowing people to stand behind me was the answer. I always feel it is unfair to say men can’t understand but I am afraid that is the reality if you are naysaying. The answer is to make sure it is harder for the tiny tiny minority men who do this to get away with it. I don’t know the specific answer but I am heartened to see more women bringing an age old secret into the open. Over to the police to respond. Great article. Thanks

  • Caron, So the suggestion has gone from a poor idea to ‘Crass’ in a few posts…

    Strange how ‘non-smoking’ carriages a few years ago were a good idea to enable a minority of passengers to escape the ‘affects’ of the smoking majority….Why not a section where women can expect the same?

    Just more LDV hype over a possible solution to a problem that could become rather more than an inconvenience…

  • Richard Easter 24th Aug '17 - 4:58pm

    Given the DFT have a policy of running all trains without guards (if they get their way), shorter trains such as voyagers and the IEP HST replacement, and the government has a policy of cutting police numbers, the whole thing is a complete red herring.

    The driver’s union is utterly opposed to axing guards (because drivers take on the legal liablity for crowd controlling passengers on platforms when the train pulls out amongt other things and can be jailed if they act stupidly and fall under trains) and drivers also would be expected to perform customer service duties after they have hit people on the line or other disruption when they have other duties to attend to or might not exactly be very customer friendly after essentially executing someone, I really do not think it will tolerate the responsibility for policing women only carriages and dealing with interlopers into them also thrust onto drivers.

  • It appears Jo Swinson would be ‘crass’ if she supported a women only carriage. Perhaps, Caron, it could be explained at which stage Jo was crass or not crass when,

    a) she opposed women’s only short lists,
    b) went through a changing her mind process, and
    c) supported women’s only short lists.

    It’s interesting to read the fuss and blether on LDV (‘evidence based’ party ?) when a poor unfortunate unknown Labour MP has the temerity (for good reasons) to suggest an idea should be ‘considered’ – note – not ‘implemented’.

    It’s odd when some in the ‘party of freedom of choice’ wish to deny women freedom of choice. They would certainly not be ‘corralled’….. what a hyperbolic exaggeration… They could still sit in the other ten carriages if they chose. It’s not compulsory.

    @ Alex Macfie “On-train catering is generally run at a loss”.

    Evidence please. Do you still believe in Santa Claus, Alex ? Especially a Santa Clause that charges a minimum £ 2 for a plastic cup of hot water with a tea bag in it – probably served by a poor soul on the national minimum wage ?

  • Alex Macfie 24th Aug '17 - 5:49pm

    David Raw: Catering services tend to run on a small loss, despite the seemingly exorbitant cost of most items, because the overheads are high and the market (in the sense of people able to use the service at any given time) is small. Train operators provide catering as a part of the on-train service, not to make a mint out of passengers. It is the same for low-cost airlines (where the time for making catering sales is even more constrained as no service can be provided during take-off and landing).

    Also your argument about train operators refusing access to drunk passengers misses a fundamental difference between airlines and most passenger train operations. Flights are always booked in advance; you have to check in, and the airline always knows who is supposed to be on a particular flight. Trains (with a few exceptions like Eurostar) are turn-up-and-go, with no check-in and no names on tickets. Many stations are unstaffed and ungated. While at terminal and major stations it might be possible to refuse access to people behaving inappropriately, it would be much harder to do so at intermediate stations. Your idea would only work if we were to move to 100% bookahead trains with airline-style check-in at all stations. This would work for long-distance trains, but would make commuting by train impossible. Yet it is easier anyway to kick people off or deny boarding on long-distance trains, much less on commuter trains where the problem is greater.

  • I agree with the subject of the article. Men who assault women deserve severe punishment under the law. Women-only carriages are so daft for a variety of reasons.

    I am not a woman but I suspect that I might feel even more vulnerable in such a carriage, since the presence of men should be a reassurance, unless the company of men heightens the problem.

    As I write this I’m conscious of how my second paragraph illustrates the tortuous path that logic takes if you try to apply Corbyn reasoning.

    The simple view is that attacks on women need to be eliminated and women should not feel the need to be isolated. Perhaps alarm and CCTV technology could help to reassure women.

  • Peter 24th Aug ’17 – 7:27pm………I agree with the subject of the article. Men who assault women deserve severe punishment under the law. Women-only carriages are so daft for a variety of reasons……

    Except that you don’t give any! The objections appear to be based on a misapprehension that women will be ‘corralled’ and Caron’s ‘women who don’t travel in such carriages will be seen as ‘asking for it’ (if any idea could be deemed crass that is it; try applying that argument to ‘what women wear’ )…
    What do do about the increase in assaults? The LibDem answer appears to be to repeat the argument that male attackers are to blame…Yes they are but that dodges rather than addresses the problem..

  • Peter Brand 25th Aug '17 - 8:04am

    Very well put, Caron.
    Non-smoking carriages are not an analogy. That is a restriction based on the behaviour that is allowed inside. Smokers were allowed in non-smoking carriages – they just weren’t allowed to smoke in there. This would be a good analogy if the proposal was to introduce “non-assault” coaches. But ALL our carriages are ALREADY non-assault.
    What is being proposed is segregation based on gender. This would be the start of a very slippery descent into more segregation. Discrimination against any whole demographic group based on the actions of a minority of that group is a red line.
    What is required instead is better education, detection, prosecution and sentencing – like banning offenders from all forms of public transport for a long time.

  • A question…Women only taxis; a good idea?

    Women…would you feel safer, especially late at night, with a taxi driven by a woman?
    Men…would you feel more comfortable if your wife/daughter was to be taxied home, especially late at night, by a woman?

  • @ Peter Brand “What is being proposed is segregation based on gender.”

    No it’s not. It’s not compulsory, it’s an extension of choice for women – it could even be regarded as discriminating against men.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Aug '17 - 9:40am

    @David Raw

    “it could even be regarded as discriminating against men.”
    Quite – as good a reason as any for not going down that route.

    Address properly the issue of some men (and sometimes women?) behaving horribly badly in public places instead – be that sexual assault or drunken behaviour or anything else.

  • NEWS FLASH Daily Telegraph today : ” Jeremy Corbyn Slaps Down Labour MP Over Women-Only Train Carriages “The response was that people don’t want them: end of.”

    We’re not going to agree with that dangerous chappy are we ?

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 25th Aug ’17 – 12:09pm
    ‘A question…Women only taxis; a good idea?’
    I presume you mean taxis for women passengers driven by women drivers.
    These already exist in certain cities. It’s entirely a different matter. If some passengers prefer to use them, that’s their choice, and the market provides it (maybe it might need some help). It doesn’t impact on the taxi market for other people…..
    I think I showed above that that ‘Ladies only’ sections of trains have practical problems. It is a different issue.

    How is it a different matter? No one is suggesting that women MUST use WO carriages; to use your phrase “that’s their choice”…
    As for practical problems?????????? A conviction for assault, be it inappropriate touching on up, would be far easier if the assault occurred in a WO carriage…It is all about creating a ‘safe place’ for women who want it; no compulsion…
    Perhaps train companies should issue women with backpacks and ask them to ‘stand sideways’ (Eb 24th Aug ’17 – 12:13pm)…

    Anyway, as David Raw notes, Jeremy Corbyn has said that, as the public appear not to want them, he will no longer consider them…One less stick to beat him with so I’m sure this thread will die a quick death..

  • David Pocock 29th Aug '17 - 10:35am

    Thanks Lynn for your point. Too often this becomes male bashing when in truth it should be predatory criminal bashing. Add camaras to the trains and if it happens then it can go to the magistrate.

    I think if this happened it is the thin edge of the wedge and would legitimise all sorts of nonsense. As a liberal I bulk at the idea of a carriage only for one identity group. What us next separate the front and back of a bus?

    For my part as an innocent man. If anyone gropes anyone and I’m on the train then he can expect me to intervene.

  • Would this actually be legal? The recent ruling by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on gender segregation at public events suggests it wouldn’t be…

    ‘Celebrating diversity means imposing misogyny’ [July 2017]:

    Hardly anyone has noticed, but last week the commission ruled on an argument that filled the airwaves earlier this year: could Universities UK, a quango, which represents the vice-chancellors of 132 universities and assorted higher education institutes, endorse gender segregation at public events.


    The universities were breaking the Equalities Act of 2010 – a useful measure passed in the dying days of the last Labour government, which requires public bodies to oppose discrimination. Religious organisations remain exempt – barring the usual exceptions for human sacrifice – but as the commission said:

    ‘once an event goes beyond religious worship or practice, equality law applies and the courts are likely to consider any gender segregation to be unlawful…A woman who is not permitted to occupy a particular area of the lecture hall because it is reserved for men is disadvantaged because she cannot sit wherever she chooses.’

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