First published by The Independent, 26th August 2015
My Twitter feed today has been largely concerned with one subject: apparently Jeremy Corbyn is going to shut women away in separate train carriages because men are animals incapable of controlling themselves when faced with a female reading her book and eating a bag of crisps.
This is, of course, not true. Yesterday, Corbyn released a series of proposals detailing how he would tackle the problem of street harassment if elected Labour leader. One idea in particular caught the attention of media outlets, and discussion has centred solely around that.
I guess ‘Jeremy talked to some women who said women-only carriages were a good solution to sexual assault but he’s going to consult on the idea more widely before doing anything’ wouldn’t be so click-friendly. But in the rush to condemn or support the gender-segregated carriage idea, Corbyn’s other proposals seem to have been forgotten. This was one idea amongst a whole plethora of brave and well-reasoned proposals to tackle the everyday harassment of women.
The majority of Corbyn’s ideas are simply common sense strategies that every party should be behind right now, regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum. Work together with local authorities, universities, transport authorities, police, and women’s campaigns to tackle harassment in public places? Yes. Why aren’t we already doing this? Create a ministerial role for women’s safety? Probably a sensible idea when approximately 3 million women experience violence at the hands of a man every year in the UK. Oh, and by the way, 50 per cent representation of women in his cabinet? I’ll take that with bells on.
Corbyn’s call for a police hotline staffed 24/7 by women that would be dedicated to reporting harassment and assault deserves praise, as it could embolden victims of harassment to report intimidation and violence without worrying that they won’t be taken seriously. Tougher rules for license holders could force bars and clubs to respond appropriately when sexual assault occurs on their premises. A wide-reaching public awareness campaign would help dispel harmful myths about street harassment and encourage those who haven’t experienced it personally to see it as a legitimate issue.
Reading Corbyn’s ideas for tackling street harassment makes me more sure than ever that I voted for the right leadership candidate, as I’m proud to support someone who is actively taking a stand against sexism in public places. The amazing Everyday Sexism project, mentioned at the beginning of Corbyn’s manifesto, is filled with experiences of street harassment, from women (and some men) of all ages and walks of life. They range from the depressingly banal to the incredibly disturbing. Anyone unsure of the impact harassment and intimidation in public spaces can have need only spend a couple of minutes browsing the Everyday Sexism Twitter feed or website. Meanwhile, the other leadership candidates have completely failed to address street harassment and abuse. Shockingly, Liz Kendall’s manifesto never even mentions women, only vaguely addressing ‘inequality’ in her early years pledge for children.
The segregated spaces on public transport proposal definitely won’t find support from me, as I feel it would fail to tackle the root causes of harassment and place the onus for keeping safe on women, rather than the men who harass – but I’m glad we’re debating the idea. Corbyn has pledged to “consult with women and open up [discussion] to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome”, and this display of engagement and willing to interact is exactly what we need from our public figures. It’s dishonest of Corbyn’s detractors to monster him for simply opening up debate on an issue that affects the lives of millions of women and is too often swept under the carpet by his peers.