Details 17:18 24 May 2023

Women's compartments: foreign experience, silencing violence and a solution that will not become a panacea

Ukrzaliznytsia, Ukraine's state railway company, announced a pilot project with the introduction of women's compartments. Rubryka analyzed how the female carriage discussion arose and how the service of providing individual seats on trains based on gender works abroad.

What is going on?

On May 23, 2023, the website of Ukrzaliznytsia reported that the company is considering the possibility of introducing women's compartments which Oleksandr Shevchenko, head of passenger communications at Ukrzaliznytsia confirmed on his Facebook page.

The service will be tested for several months, and the final decision on its scaling will be made together with the community and specialists according to demand and feedback criteria.

This was preceded by the relevant petition on the website of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

Укрзалізниця, спеціальні вагони для жінок

The rationale for the petition, which has gathered almost 24,000 votes in a week, reads: "On long routes when there is a need to sleep in a compartment or first-class carriages, passengers may feel discomfort due to passengers of the opposite sex — occasional cases of unacceptable behavior, such as intrusive behavior, intentional touching of other passengers, etc. In particular, even cases of rape in compartment cars are known. In addition, both women and men may need to change clothes, which is impossible to do in the presence of a representative of the opposite sex."

  • Fierce discussion in social networks regarding the introduction of the service of providing separate seats in trains according to gender.

Some users warmly supported the introduction of separate compartments for women and men, sharing their own experience of self-defense or protection of another person from harassment. On the contrary, some people are against the decision, saying that this is only an incomplete solution to the problem.

вагони для жінок

What is the problem?
The problem is violence 

The carriage discussion was also preceded by posts on social networks from women who claimed harassment and fear of traveling with men on Ukrainian trains. In particular, the author of one of these posts, intern psychotherapist Nadiya Aleksina, wrote that she was almost raped on the train in the first 6 hours after she entered Ukraine.

Unfortunately, there have been cases of attempted rape on trains in Ukraine before. One of the most publicized incidents happened in 2020 on the Mariupol-Kyiv train. After another similar incident in 2021, Ukrzaliznytsia announced that they would speed up the equipment of carriages with video surveillance and the ability to see the passenger's gender when buying a ticket online. As of 2023, this has not happened.

The problem is also in the public reaction to statements about violence

Aleksina also shared her negative experience. She had previously experienced rape, and the situation when the co-passenger began to cling to her on the train triggered her to remember the crimes committed against her again.

"For me, the topic of rape and violence against women, in general, is extremely important. Rape is also my personal experience, so this year's situation on the train triggered me. I never wrote about my rape during the Me Too campaign, where women shared their experiences about rape, because then I felt unprepared for society's reaction. Unfortunately, there is still blaming the victim or questioning her statements."

As a specialist in the field of psychology, some of the comments worried Aleksina. She talks about the undisguised aggression of the commentators and explains that they could seriously harm a person with a less stable emotional state.

"I did not expect that even from my acquaintances, I would receive condemnation instead of support. A few years ago, such comments would have been very damaging to my psyche," Akexina recalls.

According to the psychotherapist, if support for victims of violence prevailed in society, rape would not be so traumatic for most victims. If most comments are not supportive, they are perceived as part of the social reaction, not exceptions. They stay in the head for a long time because they reinforce shame and a sense of their own guilt, their own responsibility for what happened.

What is the solution?

The solution with women's compartments is not new either for the world in general or for Ukraine in particular.

Ukraine: "It already happened"

In 2010, the Odesa Railway informed about the option of traveling in separate compartments for women and men in five trains. It was noted there that there was a demand for carriages with separate compartments. The sales rate is 95.8% of the number of tickets offered.

In 2020, at the request of several female passengers, Ukrzaliznytsia reported otherwise. Some branches of Ukrzaliznytsia tried to introduce separate male/female compartments in individual trains. For example, in 2010, as an experiment, the Lviv Railway introduced separate compartments for men and women in 12 trains — there was one separate car per train, later the same thing was launched in the Donetsk Railway. However, there was no demand for the service — there were still many vacant places, so it was canceled.Укрзалізниця, вагони для жінок

Three years ago, Ukrzaliznytsia did not consider it reasonable to ensure division into compartments by gender.


Then the railway workers gave the following arguments:

  • When buying tickets online, it is not always possible to determine a person's gender. Some names and surnames are difficult to identify by gender: they can be foreigners, have so-called double names, etc.
  • Innovation can be perceived as discrimination against passengers (sexism, ageism, etc.).
  • From a legal point of view, we cannot refuse a passenger to buy a ticket. For example, a male passenger needs to travel, and there are only free seats in the women's compartment — Ukrzaliznytsia cannot refuse such a passenger.

In another, slightly later post, the first argument of Ukrzaliznytsia was as follows:

"Today, the company does not have sufficient resources of the fleet of passenger cars to allocate separate compartments. A situation may arise with insufficient occupancy of carriages, which will lead to dissatisfaction of the population's need for the availability of free train seats.

Britain already tried that

A little over a year ago, the editor of The Spectator, Mary Wakefield, reflected on the topic of separate carriages for women and men in the transport of the United Kingdom.

вагони для жінок за кордоном

Her article was a response to a statement by then Scottish transport minister Jenny Gilruth about a 'systemic problem' of women being afraid to use public transport because of 'masculine behavior.' 

Even earlier, in 2015, the then-leader of the Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, announced the possibility of the appearance of such cars.

On that occasion, the BBC recalled the history of such carriages in Great Britain. They had been in operation since the 1840s, and until the 1850s, there was a rule in the South-East region, according to which a carriage was always reserved for women, if necessary. In October 1874, they were introduced on the London Metropolitan Railway after a series of high-profile attacks on female passengers. As recently as March 1977, The Times reported that British Railways was gradually removing compartments for women. However, demand for them had been declining since 1936, and by the 1960s, such carriages had already become rare. Since that time, there have been calls for their restoration, noted the authors of the BBC article.

In 2022, Mary Wakefield assumed that sooner or later, such coupes would appear in her country, but at the same time, she maintained the opinion that this does not prevent violence and the problem should be solved in another way.

Experience of some other European countries

сексуальне насильство у громадському транспорті

Czech railway companies České dráhy and Regiojet have female and male compartment options in sleeping cars on some routes. If traveling as a couple, it is also possible to purchase a ticket for a man and a woman together.

Sections in sleeping cars are always divided into male and female. If a person travels alone, choosing the desired type of compartment (single, double, three-seater) with the correct selection of characteristics (male or female) is necessary. 

This practice was introduced by the Czech railways in the 2010s, following the Austrian railway as an example. The Austrian railway company, ÖBB, provides a special women's compartment on many ÖBB Eurocity and ÖBB Intercity trains and on some evening trains. The same applies to women's compartment couches on ÖBB night trains. Male passengers are asked to move to other compartments and leave these special seats free for women.

In 2016, one of Germany's private carriers introduced the option of women's compartments in its trains. Notably, this was also accompanied by a debate with arguments focusing on the need for the general safety of women.

At the time, the hashtag #imzugpassiert ("happened on the train") was also popular in the German info space, where people shared their experiences of unpleasant situations during travel.

 Asia's experience

India, Indonesia, and Japan have separate carriages for women in trains, including the subway.

In particular, in the main cities of Japan, they appeared in 2005 precisely as a response to a record number of complaints about touching and other forms of harassment from men, a third of these complaints coming from schoolgirls. According to 2004 data, up to two-thirds of Japanese women in their 20s and 30s have experienced some form of harassment on trains.

As of 2021, separate carriages for women were operating on 87 lines of 32 railway companies in Japan.

However, in recent years, there has been more and more debate about this practice, mainly because there is no severe punishment for men who use women's carriages and because it discriminates against men.

What will happen in Ukraine now?

For women's compartments to start working in Ukraine, Ukrzaliznytsia needs to:

  •   develop IT solutions,
  •   make changes to regulatory acts,
  •   consult with lawyers and international and Ukrainian non-governmental organizations.

Oleksandr Shevchenko, head of passenger communications of Ukrzaliznytsia, explained some points of the future project.

Who will be admitted to the women's compartment?

Women, transwomen, and mothers with children up to 6 years of any gender. This dialogue is still open.

Which routes plan to provide such an option?

It has not yet been determined exactly, but these are long-distance routes, the passengers of which spend a lot of time on the road.

How will it be possible to buy a particular ticket?

Through the Ukrzaliznytsia application, this function will be provided in one of its next releases.

Will it be necessary to pay extra for the women's compartment?


Is this really a solution?

Shevchenko thinks that Ukrzaliznytsia's team has well studied the world experience and understands that women's compartments are not a panacea but only a temporary reinforcing element in a complex of solutions that will treat the root of the problem. The problem is deeper and requires systematic sexual education at the national level, differentiation of the concepts of courage and aggression in the educational process (when force is not transformed into permissiveness), as well as reforms of the judicial system. Security during martial law is a priority.

Intern psychotherapist Aleksina shares a similar opinion. She calls the introduction of the women's compartment option a good initiative.

"Indeed, such wagons will not solve the whole problem. Of course, we need a lot of education about gender-based violence. Of course, we need to work on security for all citizens, not only women but also men," the psychotherapist explains. "All of the above does not contradict the idea of creating separate carriages exclusively for women. However, while we are working on the announced tasks, it would be good to allow the most unprotected half of humanity to be protected."

Ukrzaliznytsia also emphasizes that all new and modernized carriages of the company, of which there are about 15%, are currently equipped with video surveillance cameras and attendant call buttons. There is already a partially alternative solution. Another question, however, is how it all works in Ukrainian realities: whether the train attendant will react and whether there will be an option for the prompt arrival of the police in case of need.

"We believe in a set of measures where emergency buttons and alarms in the compartment, video surveillance, increased patrolling, and inevitable punishment for any proven manifestation of harassment will play a key role in eradicating this phenomenon. Therefore, the current decision of the railway is to help women feel more comfortable and safer with the help of a set of measures, one of which will be a pilot project with women's compartments," said Yevhen Lyashchenko, the chairman of the board of Ukrzaliznytsia.


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