German Rail Company Introduces Women-Only Cars
A private German rail company, Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn, has announced that they’re introducing women-only cars to trains running between Leipzig and Chemnitz. The company claims that the addition of the gender-segregated cars doesn’t have anything to do with the New Year’s attacks in Cologne, during which 838 women were harassed, assaulted, or raped, many allegedly by immigrants and asylum-seekers.
It is, however, happening in the context of the conservative, anti-immigration party Alternative für Deutschland unseating Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in three regions and inspiring huge voter turnout in elections earlier this month. It may not seem related, but tensions were high enough after Merkel took an open-door stance on admitting refugees to Germany; they rose precipitously after the New Year’s attacks; the attacks have increased support for the AfD, and now, perhaps, we are seeing the result of anti-immigrant fear in Germany. The refugee crisis and all it entails is, after all, the dominating political issue in Europe right now.
It is certainly unusual for European train companies to consider gender segregation policies — a similar Austrian initiative failed over a decade ago. German citizens seem to think, even in this climate, that it’s not a great idea. Saxon regional representative Konstanze Morgenroth told a local radio station that Germany “cannot deviate from our aim to reach a gender-inclusive society” and that “In such a society we don’t need special shelters for women.”
Nor, really, do we need special shelters for men. The logic here goes both that women need to be sheltered to be “safe,” that women are necessarily safe around other women, and that the mere presence of women compels men to harass, despite the fact that the vast majority of men don’t. Gender-segregated cars don’t really address the core problem, anyway — what happens if a woman who chooses to ride on integrated cars is harassed, and what happens when these women riding in the segregated cars get off the train? It doesn’t do much to genuinely prevent harassment, and in the meantime, it creates an expectation that this is the way women should travel.
But we’ll see how it turns out. Germany is in a unique moment in its history; perhaps there will be enthusiastic support for these cars, perhaps not.