Having your heart in the right place when it comes to protecting and promoting women’s health and safety is important—but without your head in the right place, your actions won’t lead to much progress. I fear it’s this kind of disconnect between heart and head that’s behind today’s launch of women-only train carriages in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.
Lined with hot pink seats, these gender-segregated cars were established in response to complaints by women who have been groped or otherwise sexually harassed on the city’s crowded commuter trains—but somehow I don’t think a “no men allowed” initiative is going to fix anything.
Of course, if a woman chooses to ride in one of the new cars, she’s far less likely to be harassed by a man during her commute (although some men were spotted in the women’s cars opening day), but what about everywhere else she goes? Will she feel safer walking through the marketplace, or making her way home from religious services? I am doubtful, unless the Indonesian government gets serious about addressing the root of the problem: a widespread and accepted disrespect for women. As Yanti, a 22-year-old student in Jakarta, told BBC News, “There must be other ways to stop sexual harassment. We have to try to raise awareness about the issue as well.”
I’m not saying the train program isn’t a decent band-aid until the underlying issue is solved, in fact, I’m sure plenty of women are happy to have this new option. But I think at least some of the money spent here (and I’m sure these train cars cost a lot of money) could have been more effectively used toward initiatives that would create real change. IWHC, in cooperation with a few other organizations, outlined the necessary steps in stopping abuse of and violence against women, and although safe spaces are among the initiatives listed—they are only one piece of the puzzle. Among other things, governments need to create and enforce zero-tolerance laws against such abuse, implement sexuality education in schools based on human rights and gender equality, and produce public awareness campaigns that reinforce a mandate of respect. Until initiatives like those are off the ground, I feel the message being sent to the women of Jakarta is, “If you don’t want to be harassed, stay away from men.” That’s the kind of message that only serves to create a greater gender divide—exactly what none of us want.