Prepared by Najwa Ayuni
2 October 2023
In a bid to address women's safety while using public transportation, the Malaysian government recently announced a dedicated women's coach initiative. Under this initiative, a designated coach within the MRT system has been set up to provide women with a safer and more secure environment during their daily commutes. While this move has garnered support from many who recognize the pressing need for such measures, it has also faced backlash from some quarters.
Safety concerns for women in public spaces are not unique to Malaysia. Numerous studies both in Malaysia and around the world have consistently shown that women often feel unsafe while in public. According to a study published by AWAM and Cent-GPS in Malaysia, a majority of women reported feeling unsafe, with alarming statistics revealing that 57 percent have experienced verbal sexual harassment while walking in public, and 25 percent have been stalked on their way home. These findings underscore the gravity of the problem and the urgent need for action.
The Women-Only Coach Concept
The introduction of women-only coaches on the MRT Kajang Line is a positive step in addressing the safety concerns of female passengers. It reflects a broader commitment to improving public transportation services and making them more inclusive for all passengers, especially women. As this initiative progresses, it will be important to gather feedback from users to refine the implementation and ensure that women can travel safely and comfortably on the MRT Kajang Line.
This initiative also seeks to provide women with a safer travel experience and alleviate their concerns regarding sexual harassment and personal safety. Tragically, incidents of sexual harassment on public transport are far too common, with recent reports of a woman being sexually assaulted on a train platform at LRT Taman Maluri, highlighting the very real danger that women face while using public transportation.
Countering Misogynistic Comments: Justifying The Women’s Coach
While the initiative has received widespread support, it has also faced criticism, with some claiming that it discriminates against men or panders to a "western feminist agenda." It is essential to understand and address these concerns to find a balanced solution that promotes safety for everyone.
One of the primary criticisms revolves around the issue of capacity. The MRT system currently operates with a limited number of coaches, and dedicating one to women reduces overall capacity, especially when men will still have to use shared-sex coaches. Some argue that this approach is the wrong solution to the right problem, and there is merit in this perspective. However, it's crucial to remember that the primary intention of this initiative is to create a safer environment for women, acknowledging the unique safety challenges they face.
The experience of women in public spaces is distinct, with many constantly engaging in a "negotiation of risk." Studies, such as the one by ThinkCity in 2021, have highlighted that a significant disparity exists between men and women's perceptions of safety in public spaces. It's important to recognize that being born a certain sex can bring privileges that may not be immediately apparent to all. For women, feeling unsafe is not an occasional occurrence but a daily reality, leading many to opt for alternative transportation methods, such as ride-hailing services, even though they come with their own set of safety concerns.
The government's dedicated women's coach initiative is far from perfect, and it is essential to address capacity issues. However, it represents a step in the right direction in acknowledging and addressing women's safety concerns on public transport. It is crucial to remember that this initiative does not invalidate the experiences of those who feel safe on public transport but offers a crucial lifeline to those who do not.
What is unwarranted, though, is the presence of misogynistic comments and blame directed at women for advocating for their safety. Such comments perpetuate an atmosphere of hostility and fail to acknowledge the very real concerns that women have when using public transportation.
The dedicated women's coach initiative should be viewed as a necessary response to a pressing issue. Instead of engaging in divisive arguments or questioning its validity, let us reflect on why it is essential to protect the safety and well-being of women while they use public transportation. The initiative signifies progress, and it is a collective responsibility to ensure that all passengers, regardless of their gender, can feel safe during their daily commute.