We Need to Talk About Women-Only Spaces

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Have you heard the latest announcement for MRT lately? Or at least, the viral Instagram post criticizing the decision by MRT to introduce women-only coaches?

No? Well, then, read on.

So, where do we begin? 

On the 24th of September, an Instagram account, @muthuwrites posted his highly controversial opinion. As of the date this article is being written (5 October 2023), the post is still up and you can view the post here.

It can be concluded from the post that Muthu thinks that women-only spaces are not needed, and questions why women get special treatment. Indeed, why are women’s spaces needed? It’s unfair, says Muthu. This is a sentiment that not many people echo, judging by his comment section.

So, other than this being a post by a man who has never considered what it’s like to be a woman and how differently women experience public transport than men, let’s try to answer his questions.

How about we start with women-only parking?

Women-only parking spaces in shopping malls

Have you ever heard of the name Canny Ong? No? Well then, let me tell you her story.

This is Canny Ong and her case set a precedent for women-only parking spaces in Malaysia, She was abducted while walking to her car, brutally raped, choked and then her body was set alight. Her case was genuinely horrifying and brought shockwaves all over the nation. There were debates about what actions could have been taken to prevent this sort of situation from reoccurring. Is it not tragic that 20 years after her death, not so long ago mind you, people are still adamant that women-only spaces aren’t fair?

Of course, it isn’t fair. The fair would be being able to exist peacefully without having to stay vigilant, worrying if something bad will happen to you. It is so disappointing that we still have to educate people on why women-only spaces should exist and will continue to do so unless we can eradicate the ever-looming threat of women being assaulted or worse, murdered. 

To address another point of his, Muthu also stated that if something happens to women in public transport, they can voice it out to the authorities that can take immediate action by accessing the CCTV cameras. Shouldn’t we try to prevent the assault from happening in the first place? Which is like, the entire reason women-only coaches are being implemented?

City police chief, Datuk Mohd. Shuhaily Mohd Zain said the man who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the Maluri LRT station in Cheras is at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) seeking psychiatric treatment. – NSTP/GENES GULITAH

Let’s talk about something much more recent. In July 2023, a woman was sexually assaulted at  LRT Maluri near Cheras. This case might make it into the news, but rest assured, there are more that haven’t.  In a 2016 statistical study among women passengers of KTM Komuter in Kuala Lumpur, sexual harassment accounts for 14.6% of crimes that occur when taking public transportation. Hundreds of thousands of Malaysian women use public transport every day. To put it into perspective, that means thousands of Malaysian women have been sexually harassed on public transport.

Why is this issue creating such a furore? You would have thought that with the well-known and documented cases of sexual harassment on trains, people would do the logical thing and support the idea. It’s also a form of accessibility, the same reason why we have special toilets for differently abled people. Funnily enough, no one would argue against that. Have some empathy, people. With a side of common sense, which is sadly lacking in today’s society.

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