Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gender Separation on Public Transit

Chances are, if you read this blog you're something of a news junkie, with a focus on Israel. In which case you'll most likely have heard all about how Jim Crow is coming to Israel, as demonstrated by the Black Buses on which Haredi men sit up front, and Haredi women are segregated to the back. Of course, the Supreme Court has ruled against the practice, twice - which shows that the problem isn't about to go away, since some sections of the Haredi community feel it's important, and no court can force men and women to sit together if they choose to sit apart.

I've got no words of defense for the practice. Nor do I buy into any of the chatter about how it's a reflection of a tradition and needs to be preserved or respected or that sort of thing. It isn't. It's a brand new invention of people who are too engaged in fending off modernity to notice they've gone off the cliff, and it's a sad story about how a fervent minority can dictate to the surrounding majority: so far as I understand it, the innovation comes from the Gur Hassids, and the rest of the Haredi community is being swept along becuase they don't care enough to resist.

Still, I was interested to learn, the other day, that in Egypt they've got special compartments in the subway for women only, because women traveling in normal compartments are routinely harassed, and the authorities felt it better to segregate the women than to convince the men to respect them. I don't think I'd heard this before, in spite of all the reports about how great Egypt is about to be.   


Anonymous said...

they had womens compartments in bombays suburban trains several years ago, and boy, were they necessary. at least they offered some protection, while the affirmative action and education of men from a rather very patriarchal society took their (long) time. oh and yeah, i am a news junkie with a focus on israel, you're part of my morning newspaper coffee mug and most of the time put a smile on my face.

Dukus Horant said...

To clarify: women passengers are not forced to sit in the women's cars on the Cairo Metro, they are free to sit on any part of the train. It is not uncommon to see female travelers in the "men's" cars - usually when accompanied with their families, but not always. I am not sure whether women's cars came to be because of the women's requests for harassment-free space, cultural/religious concerns, the old regime's concern for either, or some combination thereof. But women's cars were absolutely a creation of the Mubarak regime, not "the new Egypt". And by most women's accounts, sexual harassment in Egypt has lessened since the protests first began - though it still has a long way to go.

Though, since the toppling of Mubarak, many people have reported hearing calls to prayer and Quran recitations on the Metro - neither were normal occurrences before January.

And apparently, Cairo is not the only city whose subway has women-only cars:

Silke said...

I don't know what the current status is but I remember that city car parking houses in Germany years and years ago first introduced women only areas close to the exit where it is well-lit and cries for help maybe heard by the attendant.

I don't remember whether there was real concern that women alone after attending a theatre performance were in danger when going to their cars or whether it was done because we are the more fearful sex based on no solid reasons.

Risa Tzohar said...

I believe that Tokyo also has cars in their subway system reserved for women, also because of crowding and harassment. There too they are not forced to stay there.
Here in Israel it's different. We have to sit in the back on these busses.

Silke said...

Do you have to take these busses or are there viable alternatives?

Yaacov said...

There are viable alternatives. Not only that, but these lines exist only along routes that travel entirely within the Haredi areas. The rest of us don't generally use those lines. Still, their very existence on publicly-funded companies is a scandal. Only, it doesn't prove that Jim Crow is coming to Israel, merely that the Haredi community has some serious issues it needs to deal with, and the rest of us can't allow them to export the unacceptable parts to the public sphere. Which is why it has come before the Supreme Court.

NormanF said...

The mehadrin buses don't force women to sit in a specific area of the bus. My view is people should be allowed to sit where they want and there should never be compulsion involved.

Haredi Jews should be free to live by their ideas of social modesty - as long as they don't impose them on others. As long as the situation prevails in their neighborhoods, I might not agree with it but in a democracy, they have the right to live as they wish.

Conormel said...

It's the same on the Tehran Metro - women may choose any carriage they like, but men may not enter the female-only carriages.

However, on Iranian trains, compartments can be mixed - there are no set rules.

In shared-taxis, passengers generally shuffle around until there is no woman sat beside an unrelated male (I've also seen this happen on a Tel Aviv-Jerusalem sherut) - however, if this arrangement is not possible, they just get on with it. Same for inter-city buses.