By Kim Rahn
Seoul subways may have women-only compartments at night to prevent sexual harassment.
Whether the idea can be implemented remains questionable, as similar plans were scrapped in the past following opposition not only from men but also women.
Seoul City said Wednesday that it is considering conducting the pilot operation of a women-only section on subway Line No. 2 at night starting September.
“We are establishing plans to re-adopt the system and will collect opinions from citizens and women’s groups until the end of August,” a city official said.
In the plan, the last subway train will have one compartment reserved exclusively for female passengers.
“We need to develop the plan, such as whether to increase the number of compartments if citizens consent to it, or whether to scrap the plan if the feedback is negative,” the official said.
He said the number of sexual crimes on subways is rising. “According to the subway police unit, 64 percent of total crimes on subways during the first five months of the year, or 550 out of 853, involved sexual harassment. Cases of sexual violence increased 22 percent from last year, while that of theft dropped by 35 percent.”
It is not the first time that the city has attempted to create women-only subway cars.
In 1992, such a system was adopted on subway Line No. 1 operated by Korail during the morning rush hours, but was quashed as people rushing to catch trains didn’t stick to the rule.
At the end of 2007, the city attempted to readopt the system on subway Lines No. 6 and 7, but scrapped it after surveys showed more than half of people opposed it.
Effectiveness in doubt
Most women’s groups are also skeptical.
“First of all, I doubt whether it will be practically effective. If a woman is accompanied by a male friend, should they take separate compartments? If a man boards the female-only section, will he be punished?” asked Lee Eun-sang, director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center.
“More importantly, I don’t think gender segregation is the right direction to solve sexual harassment problems. It indicates sexual harassment can be prevented only when men and women are in separate spaces,” she said.
Lee said the city should make efforts to create a social atmosphere where sexual violence victims can report the crimes more actively, authorities deal with the cases more rapidly and the offenders are more severely punished.
Some men say it is discrimination against them, claiming there should be male-only sections as well. “Why don’t you make half of the compartments only for women and the other half only for men? Why don’t you slap 100,000 won fines on people who get on the compartment for the opposite gender?” a blogger jjun said.
Many women also responded unfavorably. A female blogger jamideulmyeon said, “A woman who faces sexual harassment in a mixed compartment won’t be able to blame anybody but herself because she didn’t get on the female-only car. It also assumes all men as possible criminals.”