The recent introduction of female-only coaches on the Kajang Line Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) generated a heated discussion among Malaysians.
Are female-only coaches a move in the right direction or a temporary solution to a deeper problem? Discussions have revolved around coach capacity, their efficiency, and how well they improve the overall experience of women using public transportation (Farid, 2023).
Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke asserted that the implementation of women-only coaches is a response to female commuters’ concerns about sexual harassment in crowded trains (New Straits Times, 2023). They are located in the middle of the train and are marked with pink stickers on the platforms and doors.
Sexual harassment, according to All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), is any unwanted sexual behavior that makes the recipient feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or disrespected.
Sexual harassment on trains in Malaysia
But do we really need separate coaches?
On International Women’s Day in 2020, a female passenger Norziani Laily noticed a man secretly filming her with his phone on the LRT. Confronting him, she demanded he delete the video. However, he continued to harass her at the station with repeated apologies. (The Sun Daily).
In June 2023, two sisters were on a relatively empty LRT Kelana Jaya carriage with plenty of seats when a man got on and sat down in the middle of a group of girls. While waiting for their stop, the man exposed himself but quickly put himself away and fled at the next stop when he was called out (Hype Malaysia). Most recently in July, a video was circulated on social media showing a man harassing a female passenger waiting for the train. Despite swift action from members of the public in assisting her, the female passenger remained traumatized well after and begged for the video to be taken down.
These are just a small fraction of the thousands of sexual harassment incidents on public transportation that occur worldwide every day, majority which go unreported. And Malaysia is not the only country which has chosen to introduce safer spaces for women.
A decade ago, Japan enforced women-only carriages on nine metro and suburban train lines in response to rampant reports of sexual harassment on trains in Tokyo. India has also implemented women-only metro carriages to address the ongoing problem of sexual harassment, and in 2009 introduced “ladies’ specials” which are entire trains dedicated to female passengers in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai, although some staff are male.
Sexual harassment in Malaysia
A recent Ipsos (2022) survey determined that sexual harassment is the most pressing issue facing Malaysian women, with 35% of respondents ranking it as their highest concern. Other major concerns identified by respondents were the sexualization of women and girls in the media (25%) and sexual violence (17%).
Both in Malaysia and internationally, men (17%) have a higher acceptance than women (6%) for using sexist language, sending sexual images and sharing intimate images of someone without consent.
The survey also revealed a concerning trend where both men and women in Malaysia largely believe violence and harassment is provoked, and women who are abused often exaggerate/make up their claims.
In 2020, LeadWomen and Speak Up conducted a survey entitled ‘It’sNotOkay?!’ on workplace harassment. Out of 252 female respondents, 58% stated that they have experienced sexual harassment, ranging from unwanted touching to indecent proposals. Nine percent of respondents were also unsure whether their experiences qualified as sexual harassment. Majority of harassment victims chose not to report.
A stopgap approach for now
Ideally, our country wouldn’t need women-only coaches. However, sexual harassment is still rampant and will continue to be so until society addresses the root of the problem, which includes the sexualization and entitlement (power) over women’s bodies. Women-only spaces are a significant, albeit temporary, approach because they provide a safe and comfortable environment for women to travel. In order to create long-lasting and sustainable change, more resources need to be dedicated to changing the mindsets of people to respect women’s boundaries and perhaps to keep their hands to themselves.
What Leadwomen is doing
The Inclusive Playbook programme provides an introduction to safe workplaces catered for both men and women. This interactive training breaks down the issue of safety and harassment into bite-size digestible concepts, and how to create a psychologically safe workplace. For more information, reach out to Shuen at email@example.com or visit our website here: https://www.lead-women.com/inclusive-playbook
- Alia, D. (2020, March 9). Woman sexually harassed in LRT on Women’s Day. www.thesundaily.my. https://www.thesundaily.my/style-life/going-viral/woman-sexually-harassed-in-lrt-on-women-s-day-DC2105014
- Chuah, R. (2023, June 12). Sisters horrified after pervert flashed his penis at them on Kelana Jaya Line LRT. Hype Malaysia. https://hype.my/2023/333592/pervert-flashed-penis-kelana-jaya-line-lrt/
- Farid, A. (2023, September 13). Rapid KL MRT’s female-only coaches draw mixed reactions from Malaysians. Yahoo! News. https://malaysia.news.yahoo.com/rapid-kl-mrt-introduce-female-only-coach-draws-mixed-reactions-from-malaysians-041814943.html
- Graham-Harrison, E. (2015, August 26). Women-only carriages around the world: Do they work?. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/26/women-only-train-carriages-around-the-world-jeremy-corbyn
- Ipsos Press Release: International Women’s Day 2022. (2022, March 9). https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2022-03/Ipsos%20Press%20Release%20-%20IWD%202022%20-%209th%20March%202022%20(FINAL).pdf
- Ng, E. (2023, September 25). Men slammed for boarding women-only coach on Malaysian MRT train. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/men-slammed-for-boarding-women-only-coach-in-malaysia-s-mrt-train
- Sexual harassment – All Women’s Action Society. AWAM. (2023b). https://www.awam.org.my/awamresources/sexual-harassment/#:~:text=Sexual%20harassment%20is%20about%20power,was%20provided%20by%20the%20recipient.
- Sohli, F (2023, July 29). Woman sexually harassed at Maluri LRT platform, RapidKL and authorities sought for explanation. New Straits Times. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nst-viral/2023/07/936247/nstviral-woman-sexually-harrassed-maluri-lrt-platform-rapidkl-and