Rapid KL MRT's female-only coaches draw mixed reactions from Malaysians

The female-only coaches, which are to be tested from 17 September on the Kajang Line MRT, have sparked a heated debate among Malaysian netizens.

An MRT stop in Kuala Lumpur showcasing the women-only coaches on the trains.
Rapid KL will implement and test the women-only coaches on the Kajang Line MRT from 17 September. (Photo: Rapid KL)

Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Malaysia's recent announcement of introducing female-only coaches to their trains has sparked a heated debate on Reddit, with opinions divided on whether this initiative is a step in the right direction or a band-aid solution to a deeper problem.

The move, aimed at providing a safer and more comfortable environment for female passengers, has ignited a debate centred around coach capacity, efficiency, and the overall experience of women using public transport.

Rapid KL will implement and pilot the female-only coaches on the Kajang Line MRT from 17 September 2023. Female-only coaches have been on KTM Komuter trains since April 2010.

What are the issues with female-only coaches?

One Reddit user, kvfire9, expressed her frustration with the backlash against the female-only coach, saying, "I'm a woman, and I use public transport to work every day. I understand the issue about coach capacity, but how people, especially those in the public transport community, discuss and argue it makes me feel unwelcome as a woman."

She shared personal experiences of being harassed while riding crowded coaches and emphasised the importance of acknowledging women's concerns about safety.

"At least MRT introducing a women's coach makes me feel seen and heard," she added.

Another user, exsea, argued that the real issue isn't the female-only coach itself but the shortage of coaches and regular trains.

They recalled witnessing empty seats on the female coach while others were crammed into mixed coaches, suggesting that the primary problem is insufficient capacity. However, the user acknowledged that a dedicated coach can provide added protection for women.

“The real issue is NOT the female coach. A lot of people are pointing their fingers at the wrong issue. The real issue is the LACK of coaches or lack of regular trains,” the user said.

“I remember back when I actually used KTM, I always felt disgruntled seeing so many empty seats in the female coach while many females could choose to go into mixed coaches. I was annoyed with the existence of the coach. It was highly inefficient as women were not funnelled into the coach.”

“But yeah that's a bad take. Women really do need more protection. Having a dedicated coach helps. That said, the real issue to why people are pissed off with the women's coach is simply because there's not enough seats. Queues are long and in many cases people in other coaches have to stand squish together,” exsea wrote.

Some point to issues outside of gender

Meanwhile, some Reddit users criticised the female-only coach as a cost-saving measure rather than a genuine solution to harassment issues.

They argued that the presence of police or separate coaches with doors, as seen in other countries, is more effective in preventing misconduct. Additionally, they highlighted the absence of constant monitoring in the driverless MRT and LRT systems.

One Redditor, abacteriaunmanly, provided historical context for the female-only coach concept, citing its origins in countries with overcrowded public transport systems.

The user expressed concern that the introduction of such coaches in Malaysia may be seen as a sign of societal failure, indicating that men cannot be controlled. They argued that addressing molestation requires addressing rape culture and societal attitudes.

“Women-only coaches were initially designed in really congested countries like India where people would squeeze in as much space as possible and go on long distance journeys across the entire subcontinent,” abacteriaunmanly wrote.

“It is a necessity because in these environments, it is impossible to police who is going to be a potential molester, pickpocket, robber etc.”

“When KTM first started the women-only coach decades ago, I as a woman felt that it was like a sign of failure in Malaysian society. It's like saying that we as a society have men who are molesters that cannot be controlled.”

“Now with the women-only coach on MRT it is sending the same message. Effective ways of addressing molestation involve addressing rape culture and how we have internalised it. This is like a band-aid to solve a problem,” she said.

Are there solutions to the problems?

Offering a potential solution, Nate3319 suggested improving the execution and efficiency of female-only coaches.

Nate proposed placing the female-only coach at the end of the train and marking the station platform accordingly for better organisation.

“I think the issue here is not the women's coach itself, but the poor execution and inefficiency of it. Something as simple as, placing the women's coach at the end of the train, and putting markings on the station platform where the coach will be so women can queue up there accordingly. Should be easy since we already have markings for the door,” the user said.

However, some Reddit users, like crackanape, argued that the female-only coach initiative addresses a symptom rather than the underlying problem of harassment.

“It's attacking a symptom rather than a problem. There should be zero tolerance for groping and other forms of sexual harassment, with consequences that make sure it doesn't happen again,” the Redditor wrote.

“Unfortunately there is a certain cultural tendency towards addressing any issue affecting women by removing them to isolated spaces rather than properly ensuring their fair treatment. The same tendency resists blaming men for their actions against women.”

The discussion also delved into the broader issue of addressing harassment and the role of male-only coaches.

User Specialist-Spite-725 commented, "For every female-only coach, there needs to be one male-only coach. The leftover coach can be mixed, free for all."

The user emphasised the importance of not simply removing a quota for males in mixed coaches without providing male-only options.

They compared this to uniform policies in bathrooms, and suggested applying a similar approach or increasing the fare for female-only coaches if it incurs extra costs.

“If you take away something (ban males from an originally mixed coach), you need to replace it with something else (have male-only carriages. You can't just steal some quota and then insist that you want to be in the mixed carriage. How hard is it to understand?”

“Nobody is disputing gender-based harassment at all - it is real. We all have both male and female loved ones who we want to protect.”

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