Japan, India, Egypt and Iran all have it. And now China does too.
On March 26th the city of Zhengzhou introduced what is thought to be the country’s first female-only bus service. The buses, which are decorated with cuddly toys and pot plants, will run at peak hours on the north-south route through Henan’s provincial capital, and will be followed by a normal service to prevent men from feeling disadvantaged, local press reported.
“The opening of an all-female service will help us take better care of women,” the Beijing News quoted the director of Zhengzhou’s Third Bus Company, Kong Chaoping, as saying.
“In summer some men use crowded vehicles to deliberately rub up against women’s bodies and women are too embarrassed to say anything,” he added.
Sexual harassment is a serious problem on China’s crowded public transport system. A survey by the China Youth Daily last year found that 53% of women had experienced inappropriate touching or body contact on buses or trains, while another study from Guangzhou suggested that 85% of sexual assaults happened when victims were using the southern city’s public transport network.
Last month a story about a man filming up ladies’ skirts on the Nanjing metro went viral after a young woman realised what he was doing and confronted him. According to her account, he had a duffle bag kitted out with a hidden camera. A video of the event (taken by an onlooker) shows the woman making him bite his camera’s memory card in two in penance. He runs off the minute the metro doors open.
The police launched a search and a few days later he reportedly turned himself in.
Last month another man was pictured using an iPhone to take photos up skirts at a bus station in Hefei in Anhui province.
But despite all the publicity around the cases only a handful of women appeared to support the introduction of Zhengzhou’s new female-only bus service.
Those in favour cited less crowding and fewer nasty odours. Women with babies also said it allowed them to feed their childen on the bus.
But on the whole more people seemed bewildered by the move.
Li Tingting, a prominent feminist, told WiC she thought the new service was “stupid” because it “doesn’t solve the fundamental problem”.
“Instead, more education is needed,” she said.
Another feminist Xiao Meili was annoyed by the cuddly toys and heart-shaped stickers on the buses, saying they infantilised women.
“What they should do is make a pervert-only bus. Why trap the victim?” she asserted.
There was similar annoyance in Shanghai a couple of years ago when four unusually large parking spots were painted pink and reserved for women drivers.
“Female drivers can back a car into a parking lot as well as their male counterparts, and I think such facilities are a gross insult to our driving skills,” one weibo user.
Another point of irritation was bus company executive Kong’s suggestion that the service was only necessary in the summer because it is at this time of year that women wear fewer clothes (the plan is to run the buses from late April to August 6th).
“In the summer women wear thin clothing, making it easier for men to harass them in crowded buses,” the China Youth Daily quoted him as saying.
Three years ago the Beijing Metro made unwanted headlines for telling women not to wear hotpants and mini-skirts on the city’s underground if they wanted to avoid being bothered by men.
Others on social media were unhappy with Zhengzhou’s new transport plan.
“The problem with all-female buses is that this treats all men as perverts,” said one male weibo user. In television footage of the bus in question, an elderly man also had to be led away by bystanders, utterly bemused at being denied a seat. “This is a public bus, what are you talking about?” he fumes. “Don’t you know this is discriminatory towards men?”
China Youth Daily seems to have some sympathy with that view. “Segregation reminds us of medieval times,” it said, suggesting that the buses “should only be a temporary measure”.
Women-only bus services can be found in a handful of cities across the world including Islamabad, Kathmandu, Mexico City and Jakarta. Women-only carriages on trains operate in Egypt, India, Japan and Malaysia.
In 2009 several Indian cities even went as far as introducing women-only trains. China also experimented with women-only carriages on trains a few years ago but then scrapped the idea. The reason: there wasn’t enough demand for them.
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