Women-only facilities in demand - The Star newspaper IWD 2016 Special

Mar 8, 2016

IT IS International Women’s Day today and as there is greater concern with regards to women’s safety and privacy, StarMetro looks at some of the facilities that are provided for them in Klang Valley.

Facilities exclusively for women are now common, such as special parking spaces, train coaches, gyms and hostels. Such services are very much in demand.

Although these gender-segregated facilities can be argued as a biased system that discriminated against men, it is in response to the reality on the ground.

A study in 2002 conducted by All Women’s Action Society (Awam) and Women’s Development Collective found that 35% of respondents in Malaysia had experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment.

United Nations Development Programme (Gender Equality and Women Empowerment) programme manager Suriani Kempe said the reality was that sexual harassment and other forms of violence in public spaces were an everyday occurrence for women and girls around the world.

“They experience and fear various types of sexual violence in public spaces, from unwanted sexual remarks to rape. It happens on streets, in and around public transportation, schools and workplaces, in public sanitation facilities and parks.

DBKL’s parking guideline states that all commercial development need to have a minimum of 7% bays reserved for lone woman.

“This reality reduces women’s and girls’ freedom of movement and their ability to participate in school, work and public life.

“It also negatively impacts their health and well-being as well as limits productive interactions between genders that expand understanding and opportunities,” she said.

However, Kempe acknowledged that gender-segregated facilities should only be a temporary measure to address safety concerns and followed up with long-term efforts.

“Another concern of such facility are the criteria for choosing where to enforce such ruling.

“The root of women’s safety concerns is the general inequality between genders – that women have less power economically, politically, socially and, to an extent, physically, which makes them more vulnerable to violence,” she said.

She said other types of interventions should be explored to address safety issues, not only for women but for all.

“Simple things such as ensuring streets and parking lots are well-lit, emergency response buttons are easily accessible, easy access to and from a location, easy movement within locations and visibility of entire space are some of the features that create a safer environment for everyone.

“An example of a successful intervention that addresses public safety is UN Women’s ‘Safe Cities Global Initiative’, where programme partners are implementing innovative, locally owned and sustainable approaches to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women in public spaces,” she said.

Women’s Aid Organisation advocacy officer Kristine Yap said societal attitudes towards women must be challenged to stem violence against women from the root, which lies in power imbalance and gender inequality.

Kempe said the root of women’s safety concerns are the general inequality between genders.

“Although the efforts to make public spaces safer for women are commendable and may offer women a peace of mind while they go about their lives, be it exercising, commuting or travelling, it still feeds into the mindset that the onus is on women to take necessary precautions to protect themselves.

“So gender segregation is not a solution,” she said.

For now, women in the city are certainly appreciative of the women-only facilities that have created over recent years.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is the only local authority in the Klang Valley that has imposed a guideline for commercial parking lots to have a minimum 7% of parking bays reserved for lone woman drivers and it should be marked in pink.

Sunway malls senior marketing manager Darren Chear said that aside from the bays conveniently located near entrances, women drivers were also encouraged to adopt cashless transaction for quicker access to their vehicles.

One of the few hostels in Kuala Lumpur opened to women and girls only is the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Hostel in Jalan Hang Jebat.

YWCA Kuala Lumpur president Kim Teoh said it was established in 1953 to meet the accommodation needs of young girls as a home away from home.

“Due to increasing demand, a second hostel was built in 1963,” she said, adding that there were single and double rooms, bedsitters and studio apartments to meet the needs of young female students and working adults.

The Malaysia Book of Records recently recognised KTM Berhad (KTMB) for introducing coaches on their commuter trains exclusively for women in 2010.

KTMB corporate communications head, Ridhwan Arshad said complaints on sexual harassment during the peak hours prompted them to introduce the women-only coaches.

“Women make up 60% of our passengers and they have to squeeze into congested coaches during peak hours. So we wanted to make their journey safer and more comfortable.

“The ladies coach is for women and children below 12 years of age. The feedback has been very positive and many have complimented our effort.

“We also have a designated waiting area for women at KL Sentral station. Announcements are made inside the coach to ask men to move to other coaches. We have also given the right to women to ask any man in the ladies coach to move to other coaches,” he said.

Ridhwan, however, said there had been negative feedback from the men.

“They said it was not fair as the women get to board any coach, especially when the women’s coach was less crowded.

“Some men boarding with their families were also forced to be separated,” he said.

Another growing trend is women-only gym. Curves Malaysia chief executive officer Alison Chin said there were many issues with exercising outdoors.

“At Curves, women workout in a comfortable and non-intimidating environment.

“Our Muslim members also love the privacy,” she said.

 

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