LONDON - A surge in reported sex offences on Britain's public transport has driven the idea of women-only rail carriages back into the political spotlight despite concerns that gender segregation would reinforce sexist attitudes and fail to tackle the problem.
Politician Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing candidate for the leadership of the opposition Labour party, said he would consider women-only carriages if he were to win office after first consulting women to see if they would welcome the move.
He was speaking after the British Transport Police (BTP) issued figures showing that the number of reported sexual offences on public transport had hit a new high, rising 25 percent in 2014/15 to 1,399 cases from 1,117 a year earlier.
The BTP attributed the steep rise to a campaign to encourage people to report sexual offences after a 2013 survey found one in 10 Londoners experienced unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport but more than 90 percent did not report it to police. "It is unacceptable that many women and girls adapt their daily lives in order to avoid being harassed on the street, public transport, and in other public places from the park to the supermarket," Corbyn said in a statement.
As well as floating the idea of women-only rail carriages, Corbyn, who is in front in the leadership race, used a policy document on ending street harassment also to suggest a 24-hour hotline staffed by women for reporting harassment and assault.
More cities around the world are bringing in 'women only'train carriages, buses and taxis in a bid to stem the amount of sexual harassment.
The world's largest capital, Tokyo, was one of the first, from 2000, to introduce women-only carriages on trains to stop women being abused. Mexico City, Jakarta and others followed suit, and some are mulling the idea.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey last year of 15 of the world's largest capitals and New York found 70 percent of women feel safer on single-sex transport.
The poll, conducted by YouGov, found 45 percent of women in London said they would feel safer in women-only areas, while one third of 400 women surveyed said they had been verbally abused on London transport and one fifth reported physical assault.
Althougn fewer than half of Londoners saw a need for women-only carriages, British Transport Minister Claire Perry said last year she would consider such a move for the London underground network, known as the Tube, and the idea has yet to be totally dismissed.
Corbyn's mention of women-only carriages was quickly shot down by female rivals in the Labour party, which is seeking a new leader after a humiliating defeat in elections in May.
Yvette Cooper said in a statement that women-only carriages would be "turning the clock back, not tackling the problem". "Just got off Tube. Majority of passengers women. Why should we have to shut ourselves away to stay safe? Stop #VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) instead #segregation," Cooper later tweeted.
Conservative parliamentarian Sarah Wollaston said women-only carriages were not the answer as they normalised unacceptable attitudes. "In countries where women are segregated on public transport, this is a marker for disempowerment not safety," she tweeted.