Back Door, Please

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Buses
This is a guest post by Caroline Esser, a research associate with the New America Foundation’s Bernard L. Schwartz Fellows Program.
On March 28 a mass email from Daniel Sokatch, the CEO of the New Israel Fund, arrived in my inbox celebrating the fact that “Israeli women will no longer be forced to the back of the bus.” The email, which was referring to a recent Israeli Supreme Court decision which held that it is no longer legal for government-subsidized bus companies to require gender segregation, at first seemed to be a relic from the past, a historic document that miraculously found its way into 21st century inboxes. Buses where the women must enter through a separate door in the back and sit in the rear of the bus? This couldn’t be real.
However, despite the difficulty of imagining separate lines of men and women forming on Connecticut Avenue as I await the 42 bus with other Dupont commuters, I soon learned that government-subsidized segregated buses are a quite real phenomenon in Israel and in many other countries around the world including Japan, Egypt, India, Taiwan, Brazil, Indonesia, Belarus, the Philippines, Dubai, and Mexico. Immediately, I wondered if civil rights groups in these other countries view gender segregation in the same light as the Israel Religious Action Center–the advocacy group that initiated the Supreme Court case against Israel’s subsidization of segregated buses in 2007. Do feminists and human rights activists elsewhere consider gender segregated public transportation to be discriminatory against women? At least in Mexico, the answer is no, but they should.
The Institute of Mexico City Women (Inmujeres DF), a branch of the city’s government, first put women-only buses into circulation in Mexico City in 2008. The buses were part of a broader government effort to advance the lives of women and protect their right to lives without violence. Unlike in Israel, where gender segregated buses were motivated by a rapidly growing community of ultra-Orthodox men who believe in separation of males and females in public spaces, Mexico City’s women-only buses were motivated by women seeking protection from the all-too-frequent instances of sexual harassment on the city’s packed buses. The buses are not seen as discrimination but rather as a means of liberation. The director of Inmujeres DF, Martha Lucia Micher Camarena, told the New York Times in February 2008 that the buses are “positive discrimination that responds to the demands of women. And it’s also for men because it protects their daughters, sisters, and mothers.”
There is no question that the intentions of the Mexico City government were good. Inmujeres DF recognized that women were not being respected as equals and it attempted to honor the real concerns of its female citizens. However, despite the benevolent intent of the government, women’s rights groups should be equally outraged at the existence of women-only buses in Mexico as the advocacy groups were at the subsidization of gender segregated buses in Israel.
Yes, the women-only buses are optional and Inmujers DF has also organized a public education campaign to make it clear that inappropriate touching is illegal and has set up five service modules within the metro stations to give immediate attention to cases of abuse, but we need to think about the broader implications of these separate buses. The same New York Times article describes how the new patrons of the women-only buses were jeering at the men who were turned away from their bus. One such patron, Catalina Gardu

Comments

22 comments on “Back Door, Please

  1. Davy says:

    An interesting article, as someone above stated,
    but awfully patronising. As an Indian woman, I
    feel safer on public transport knowing that there
    are women-only buses and women-only compartment in
    local trains. In an ideal world, we’d be able to
    travel with anyone without fear of harassment or
    indignity. This is not, however, an ideal world,
    and people like you ought to recognise that change
    is slow. Attitudes take time to change. Respect
    takes time to build. And no woman should be forced
    to endure the occasional group so that a larger
    political point can be made. Until and unless I am
    assured that I can travel in a compartment full of
    men without being groped, I’ll stick to women-only
    compartment. Plunking a bunch of women in there
    isn’t going to make them stop.

    Reply

  2. questions says:

    I just listened to Ron Paul’s Chris Mathews interview with the whole “I’d vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964″ and “Segregation was a government law” spiel, after reading DeLong. (The video is up at TPM.)
    DeLong notes that it takes the government’s power to enforce property rights, and of course, to create property rights in the first place. No Hobbesian worth his salt thinks there’s property RIGHTS outside of civil society. There may be some kind of natural freedom, but it’s such a mess and so full of “nasty, brutish, and short” life that no, indeed, we don’t have much without a government.
    Ron Paul then seems to think that it’s the government that is responsible for segregation, and absent the gov’t, there’d be no segregation.
    It’s an, umm, interesting argument. Except that it’s better to say there’d have been no segregation absent a culture that demanded it AND demanded the law follow the culture.
    It’s not government qua government that creates segregated life, it’s government qua popular will that does so.
    The government responds to preferences for segregation by enforcing segregation. Segregation wouldn’t simply disappear without the government.
    Ron Paul should look at American housing patterns if he want to see what the free market does regarding segregation. There are no laws that separate people, and yet, most cities are pretty thoroughly segregated, with good schools, good resources and good roads in some parts of town only.
    Ron Paul has much totally backwards. And he thinks he has it forwards.
    It’s scary.

    Reply

  3. Janice Adadi says:

    A beautifully written article. Your last sentence says it all. The discrimination towards women in the Orthodox society should not be reinforced by this kind of segregation. I take my hat off to the author, and hope that this policy will be changed.

    Reply

  4. Sharon Azar says:

    if the bus crashes, the men will take the brunt of the crash. this is as it should be. men protecting women. and besides, how can you gossip and make fun of men if they’re right next to you!

    Reply

  5. questions says:

    A little more on the Republican controversy du jour:
    http://www.metrolyrics.com/changes-lyrics-common.html
    Some super scary stuff there…..
    It’s on my iPod.

    Reply

  6. questions says:

    Since I don’t click on Ha’aretz links, I’ll give DeLong’s link to it instead:
    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/05/the-chances-that-damascus-tehran-riyadh-cairo-and-tel-aviv-become-seas-of-radioactive-glass-over-the-next-century-just-w.html
    It seems to me that Hamas is moderating its rhetoric while positioning for the home folks.
    The influence of the W/B, the political development successes over time, may well be tantalizing enough for Hamas to chill in bits and pieces. Because they are very much in a Tea Party-style rhetorical trap — only way worse– they need to back off the real crazee very very slowly, in face-saving, political positioning ways. They should be granted the space to make the reservations they wish to rhetorically, though not so much programmatically.
    Here’s hoping this is real, and not a phantom of my feverish imagination.
    ****
    Also, Thoma links to Rortybomb/Koczal on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ rejiggering of job opening numbers. The numbers that freaked out some economists and had them crying out “structural unemployment” in the traditional definition of same (mismatch between openings and workers available) have been restated. There were many fewer openings across the economy, and the numbers were an artifact of a birth/death model.
    Indeed, there were not enough openings to suggest any kind of mismatch between available jobs and available workers.
    The policy implications for this shift are mostly that the gov’t has no excuse for not using policy to increase employment.
    But that leaves out the political structures in Congress and in our resentment of the lazy other and in our overvaluing our own experiences and in our foolishly voting for Republicans. These “structures” are not structures, but they are “structures.”
    Economics, meet politics!
    ****
    Thoma has many interesting links up. nakedcapitalism has an interesting post on fractional reserve banking and what reserves do and don’t do. More things to learn!
    *****
    Also of note, a dispute of sorts between bonddad and McJoan (Joan McCarter) of kos regarding housing data.
    This dispute really gets at the heart of a fascinating policy problem
    McCarter suggests that housing prices will bring on more misery before things are done. Bonddad disputes that by citing lots of data that suggest the worst of the foreclosure mess has passed, and that existing home sales are rising as the prices fall, equilibrium will be reached, hallelujah. Falling prices and low interest rates will eventually clear the market.
    I think both positions are correct, but are argued from such different places as to be unable to communicate with one another.
    Falling house prices and low interest rates help new, employed, secure buyers. Totally. And indeed the market will clear eventually.
    Falling house prices will crush the current owners who will lose community, equity (if they had any), their credit ratings, in some cases, marriages or custody of children, in some cases the family’s only source of stability and wealth.
    In short, there’s a horrible trade off in falling prices.
    And, to add to the misery, low interest rates hurt investors on fixed incomes (think granny with an account that pays some interest and helps with the bills).
    We’re making trade offs that really do inflict some pain on some, even if they alleviate pain on others.
    Joan McCarter sees one side, Bonddad sees the other.
    There’s still a lot of pain out there.
    ****
    Which is why we have elected and campaigning Republicans to keep us amused while we suffer.
    ****
    Inhofe saw THE PICTURES.
    TPM has all sorts of goodies up.

    Reply

  7. YY says:

    Gender segregated buses in Japan? May be you’re referring to female only cars in some commuter trains, a way of providing grope free environment, which basically is curtailment against males and not anything positive or negative about gender discrimination.

    Reply

  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Heres a MUST READ from Escobar…..
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/ME12Ak01.html
    Refreshing, isn’t it, to see REAL THOUGHT coming from someone that isn’t a think tank thinker or some mewling syncopantic media mouthpiece? I can’t help but wonder what our nation would be if more people in the public eye had the BALLS to tell us THE TRUTH.

    Reply

  9. questions says:

    File this under: There simply are not words for this, but there is a movie from last year with this plot –
    “In a 2009 column for conservative news site WorldNetDaily, Porter asserted that President Barack Obama is a Soviet secret agent, groomed since birth to destroy the United States from within.”
    http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/05/mike-huckabee-janet-porter-soviet-spy
    Huckabee’s closest adviser.
    Huck ain’t runnin. Trump is down for the count. Daniels just signed the most anti-abortion legislation, Gingrich is…Gingrich, Romney and health care like pb and j….
    Could Obama possibly win all 54 states?!
    The DREAM Act was reintroduced. He got bin Laden. The Justice Dept nailed Rajnaratnam, Manning is better placed, there will be family visits to Gitmo, possibly….
    With some mojo comes a little civil rights action. Right now, the pres has some mojo.
    There’s just unemployment to deal with, the debt ceiling, the budget issues in general, oh, and letting the dems know that they shouldn’t remind senior citizens that the repubs in the House ALL voted to end Medicare as we know it! And according to someone, AARP (The AARP?) is a leftwing organization that is profiteering by not lobbying for the privatization of the kind of insurance it makes money from!
    Now, seriously, whose idea was it to take on ALL people in this country over the age of 50?!
    And all people of Latino descent.
    And many women.
    And people who want public schools for their kids.
    And unions.
    And the unemployed.
    Ummm, who’s left?

    Reply

  10. Marcelo S. Willett says:

    I wolud like to state that in BRAZIL, women never segregated in buses, subways, ferryboasts or trains. Caroline Esser is misinformed about our country.
    Additionally, women in BRAZIL became eligible to vote in 1930′.
    PS> this is my third posting, your system has problems, I get error message saying I did not type my name anda emial address.

    Reply

  11. Tank Man says:

    “it is also ridiculous in 2011 in the USA with Barack Obama as president to tolerate as well as publicly support a “Congressional Black Caucus”.
    Jim, that

    Reply

  12. ChescoRes says:

    Caroline,
    An interesting article, but I stopped reading after the 2nd time you attempted to tell the women of Mexico City what they should or should not feel outrage over.
    Different cultures handle things differently. If the women riding on that female only bus all agree that this is not discriminatory, but in fact something that they asked for and like, then who are you to tell them they should feel differently?

    Reply

  13. TS says:

    “I soon learned that government-subsidized segregated buses are a quite real phenomenon in Israel and in many other countries around the world including Japan, Egypt, India, Taiwain, Brazil, Indonesia, Belarus, the Phillipines, Dubai, and Mexico.”
    I think you forgot the US. I tink the buses running from Monsey to Manhattan, used mostly by orthodox Jews but receiving federal funding, segregate men and women using a mechitza. (At least a few years ago this was still the case.) So this is not just about some foreign countries. Surprised you don’t know this.

    Reply

  14. questions says:

    Could this, would this, might this be a beginning or is it the end?
    http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/rajaratnam-found-guilty/?hp
    The investigation goes back to 2008 and earlier.
    “For years, Mr. Rajaratnam was lionized as one of Wall Street

    Reply

  15. questions says:

    Steve, just saw you’re listed for Netroots Nation — right next to kos himself in the list. Congrats! It’s a good group of people!
    “The Netroots Nation agenda is up, and here are just a few of the luminaries who will be on various panels:
    Kos, Steve Clemons, Joan McCarter (“McJoan”) Amanda Marcotte, David Neiwert, Jake McIntyre (“Trapper John”), Dahlia Lithwick, Arjun Jaikumar (“Brownsox McDreamy”), Matt Yglesias, Pam Spaulding, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Darcy Burner, Chris Bowers, Marcy Wheeler, Neeta Lind (“Navajo”) Joe Sudbay, Adam Green, John Aravosis, and Wendell Potter.
    That’s just, like, one half of one scintilla of one quarter of one percent! For the complete list of panel topics, click here.”
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/05/11/974864/-Cheers-and-Jeers:-Wednesday?detail=hide&via=blog_1
    Have fun!

    Reply

  16. Bruce Barnett says:

    When I was in Japan the concept of women only train cars (and I suppose buses) was introduced to protect women from men and their roving hands in packed train cars. The more appropriate solution would have been for women to yell out at the perpetrator but that would be against the grain for most Japanese women. This was not discrimination against women (although possibly against men) but rather a way to protect them from disagreeable twits.

    Reply

  17. paul lukasiak says:

    true feminism is not a “one size fits all” proposition, Ms Esser. If women in Mexico feel that they need “women only” busses to take advantage opportunities that will lead to greater gender equality where it counts — in the economic and social spheres — then Ivy League educated upper middle class Americans should think twice before superimposing their own “feminist” values on those Mexican women.

    Reply

  18. bob h says:

    In Japan segregated transportation is offered at certain times because of male gropers.

    Reply

  19. downtown says:

    According to my Japanese wife, the reason for gender
    separated buses / train cars in Japan has
    nothing to do with discrimination. The
    primary objective was to protect women from being
    groped by drunk business men.

    Reply

  20. Kenneth Williams says:

    Back Door? Matron!

    Reply

  21. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    Hmmmm…in the last couple of years, I have made the decision, as a woman, to not travel to any countries that do not value women equally…life it too short for me to spend any of mine in an environment that is adverse to me, as a woman….thanks for the list.

    Reply

  22. Jim Esser says:

    Caroline:
    What a wonderful article and I agree with everything you wrote. To carry this thought one step further, it is also ridiculous in 2011 in the USA with Barack Obama as president to tolerate as well as publicly support a “Congressional Black Caucus”. What do you think?
    Jim

    Reply

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