Asia Scope

Sisterhood of the Travelling Public; women-only cars in Asia

Eight women-only trains have hit the tracks in four of India’s urban centres—Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Madras—in response to the growing concerns of female commuters who are being harassed by men. (See a photo slideshow) Although for some years now trains in India have reserved certain cars for women, men would often use them anyway, to avoid overcrowding in the regular compartments. The numbers of working women in the country, meanwhile, has doubled in the past 15 years.

Elsewhere in Asia, there have been similar efforts made to give women on public transportation choices that may increase their sense of safety and comfort. In the Philippines, the oldest and most crowded light rail system, the LRT, also has a special women-only carriage. Reportedly, Taiwan too now offers the service on selected cars of its public railway, while Nepal has some women-only bus services and South Korea has promised to introduce the service by next year.

But nowhere compares to Japan for its history and scale of women’s only train services. There are currently such cars operating on every train line in the capital city during peak commuting hours. And according to the Journal of Transportation History, the women-only car phenomenon has been around since 1912, when its purpose was to keep young schoolgirls out of the sight of male riders. The compartments disappeared in the late 1970s but again re-emerged in the early 2000s with increased crowding on trains and complaints of sexual harassment.