German operator, Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB), has introduced women-only rail carriages to some of its services, provoking heated debate and a denial that it’s linked to a recent spate of assaults on women. A spokesman for the network said that the initiative was intended to encourage a safer atmosphere for all female travellers in general. Children, including boys up to the age of ten, will also be allowed to in the carriages, which run on the 50-mile Leipzig to Chemnitz line in Eastern Germany. The carriage will be situated adjacent to the office used for on-board train staff. And it is not mandatory for women to sit in them. But this is nothing new for rail, women-only carriages are used frequently in countries such as Japan (Pictured above, where they have been in use for over a decade), India, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt as well as across the Middle East.
Traditional and social media comment on this move has speculated it has been done in response to the mass reports of sexual assaults against women on New Year's Eve in Cologne and elsewhere.
But as reported in the German news site, The Local, a MRB spokesperson said that the company created the sections at the request of families, seniors and women travelling alone with children.
"The proposal for this came from passengers who want more privacy. It has nothing to do with sexual harassment," an MRB spokesperson told broadcaster MDR last week. "This is an extra service offer, using the examples of the Austrian train system and the ICE and IC train operators."
Indeed the state-owned Deutsche Bahn, offers a 'ladies compartment' on the City Night Line overnight sleeping cars for women travelling by themselves.The ICE, EC and IC high-speed trains run by Deutsche Bahn often also offer optional sections for parents (male and female) travelling with small children.
The news of Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn plans have set off the all too predictable storm of debate online on the merits of its, whether its effective, discriminatory or helpful in the current tense climate on such issues in Europe. In response, the hashtag #imzugpassiert (it happened in a train) has trended on Twitter with women sharing example of harassment (and worse) whilst travelling on trains. Warning if you are a German speaker this is a depressing read, offering grim stories and large doses or xenophobia and sexism.
It will be interesting to follow this response to this development, as reported in the Süddeutsche Zeitung train operator SBB in Switzerland tried this around the turn of the century, but the compartments weren’t popular so the plan was quickly discontinued. India however has had women-only trains since 2009, these “ladies specials” have prover popular in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Madras and were launched in response to persistent sexual harassment.
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