PETALING JAYA: Two women’s rights activists have applauded the idea of designated women-only coaches on trains, but said that it is only the first of many steps to creating a safer space for women in public areas.
“It is a commendable effort and also a positive step in addressing the safety and comfort of female passengers,” said Lilian Kok from the All Women’s Action Society.
“Malaysian women, to a certain extent, do not feel safe when they’re out in public, especially on public transport where it’s very crowded during certain hours.”
Last week, transport minister Loke Siew Fook said the trial run for designated women-only coaches for the Kajang MRT Line would begin by the end of this month. He said each coach could accommodate more than 100 passengers.
He described women-only coaches as “necessary” considering the increase in sexual harassment cases on trains.
However, Karen Lai from the Women’s Centre for Change remained sceptical about whether the initiative would be successful.
She described the idea of adding women-only coaches on trains as a “low-hanging fruit” that many countries had adopted because it had a relatively low implementation cost and could often be done immediately.
Kok and Lai said public transport providers should consider other long-term approaches to make women feel safer in public spaces.
They suggested creating a “fast” and “easy” mechanism for people to report cases of harassment, whether it be a helpline, mobile app, or an emergency button on trains and buses.
Lai said authorities should focus resources on holding perpetrators accountable, to send a message about the serious consequences of sexual harassment.
“(Creating a safe space for women) is not something you solve overnight with segregated services. It requires a sustained effort, and it needs to be focused on transforming social behaviour,” she said.
Both activists urged the government to produce an impact assessment report following the trial run and gather feedback from commuters to see if Prasarana’s resources had been appropriately deployed.
“It’s very important to strike a balance between providing a safe space for female passengers and ensuring the efficient use of public transportation resources,” Kok said.
“Do women feel safer (in women-only coaches)? As for the greater public, is it efficient when we close down one coach just for women during peak hours?”