‘Women only’ carriages not the only option

Instead of curtailing women’s choices over where they can or cannot sit ‘for their own safety’, KTMB should consider working out how they can stop the harassment on trains and take action against harassers, says Ms Batik.


Recently, the president of Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) was reported to have said that commuter trains serving Klang Valley, Rawang and Seremban would soon have separate compartments for men and women to ensure the safety of women in packed trains during peak hours.

Assuming that sexual harassment is the problem and that it is the men who are harassing the women, then ‘women only’ carriages might seem like a quick, practical solution to the problem. But then again, perhaps we need to also consider the following:

  • ‘Women only’ carriages offer short term protection. A harasser following a woman can continue to harass the woman on the platform/in the station once she leaves the carriage. The harasser is also ‘free’ to harass women who do not sit in ‘women only’ carriages.
  • To prevent harassment, women are offered a ‘women only’ carriage option. There is no attempt to make harassers accountable. Instead it is the ‘victim’ who has to curtail her choices of where she can or can not sit  (and hence also with whom).
  • Would a woman who chose to sit in a ‘public’ carriage face a certain amount of censure for being in what might be seen as a ‘male only’ space and for not occupying a seat on the ‘women only’ carriage?  
  • Would a woman who gets molested while sitting in a ‘public’ carriage be blamed for not sitting in the ‘women only’ carriage? (i.e. Itu lah… ada ‘women only’ carriage…Who asked her to sit here?)
  • Would ‘women only’ carriages reinforce the stereotype that men are harassers and cannot ‘control’ themselves and hence women need protecting?
  • Would ‘women only’ carriages lead to sex segregation in other public spaces?
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If the problem facing women on the trains is sexual harassment, then KTMB has the responsibility of addressing this problem by making the environment in the carriages/trains (and also on platforms and in the station) a safe space for women. Instead of curtailing women’s choices over where they can or cannot sit ‘for their own safety’, KTMB should consider working out how they can stop the harassment on trains and take action against harassers.

KTMB could:

  • invest in CCTV cameras,
  • deploy security personnel on trains and on platforms,
  • liaise with the police over security,
  • put up posters regarding behaviour on trains,
  • make announcements over the PA system,
  • distribute leaflets about the issue for commuters in multiple languages,
  • set up an effective complaints bureau which has victim support and so on.

This would serve as a strong deterrent for other potential harassers once they see KTMB taking the issue seriously. What would also help a great deal is having more trains or carriages to lessen over-crowding during peak times.

It is good that KTMB has acknowledged a problem that some women commuters face. However while ‘women only’ carriages may offer a ‘quick fix’ to the problem of sexual harassment on trains, KTMB needs to also think about correcting the environment that disadvantages women.

Come on KTMB – you can do it!

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