Mexico City’s Women-only metro carriages: should it be a long-term strategy?

Oscar Wong
Global Leadership Initiative Fellow
Department of Urban Studies and Planning
The University of Sheffield

When Jeremy Corbyn suggested reserving carriages for women in the London Underground, there was a backlash amongst critics, who argued that such a policy amounted to recognition that women’s safety could not be achieved throughout the city. It seems that there is not much demand from the general public for women-only carriages in London.

However, in Mexico city it is an entirely different story – this is a result of the routine insecurity faced by women throughout the transit system in the city. According to governmental agency Inmujeres, seven out of ten women who ride public transportation in Mexico City report experiencing gender-based violence. The Thomson Reuters Foundation also surveyed women in 16 global cities on transit safety and Mexico City emerged as the second most dangerous transit system for women. These figures explain why there is demand among Mexican women for women-only carriages.Mexico subway system

Photo (Author’s own) incoming train in one of the city’s subway stations

The Sistema de Transporte Colectivo (STC), the Mexico City Metro, introduced women-only carriages in the city’s subway system in 2008. Sections of the platforms marked ‘Sólo mujeres’ and demarcated with orange barriers are reserved for women only. These areas are policed by guards and CCTV is prevalent. Although no comprehensive study on the effectiveness of these initiatives has been carried out to date, the STC believes that the strategy provides women with safe travel where they can enjoy spaces in the public transit systems freely and with less fear.women and children under 12

Photo (Author’s own) displaying the orange barriers demarcating sections for ‘Women and Children under 12.’

However, policy enforcement has been questioned: guards only patrol some of the busier stations – such as Pantitlan, a transport hub in East Mexico City – and there is little that prevents men from entering the spaces reserved for women at less busy stations. The absence of guards may allow males to board the carriages reserved for women, and it is apparent that men occasionally stray into these spaces and carriages. Additionally, the hours and coverage of women’s only carriages and spaces are limited. It only applies to 7 of the 12 Mexico City Metro lines at peak hours. Therefore, it is important to note that there is no space within the transportation network that has been permanently reserved for women, although the STC announced that the hours may be extended.guards at station

Photo (Author’s own) Guards pictured at one of the city’s busy metro stations

In addition to the criticism on policy enforcement, the broader controversy of the ‘pink taxi’ strategy applies to the case of Mexico City. Advocates for women’s rights suggest that this segregation tactic is likely to deepen gender divides, making long-term equality between men and women difficult to achieve.

The essential question remains: Is the segregation of men and women in public transit systems an only viable long-term solution that has the potential to reduce sexual harassment? While providing designated zones for women, in order to ensure their security is an understandable solution to a very serious problem, it could be a threat which leads to the public transit system becoming further gender segregated.

Oscar studies Urban Studies and Planning, and is taking a year out working with Transport for London as a Borough Planner. He is also a project manager in the Think Tank of Hong Kong Public Space Initiative and was a research assistant at the University of Sheffield. Oscar attended the Habitat III Latin American and Caribbean Regional Preparatory meeting as part of the Global Leadership Initiative.

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