BOGOTA, Sept 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women-only seats could be introduced in buses in Bogota if city councillors vote this week for a new law designed to tackle high levels of sexual harassment of women on public transport in the Colombian capital.
The bill’s sponsor, conservative councillor Marco Fidel Ramirez, said seats should be reserved for women during the morning and evening rush hours on Bogota’s red bus system, known as TransMilenio.
“It basically aims to reduce sexual harassment in the (bus) system and provide the security that women in Bogota need,” Ramirez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The more women seated ... the more women protected.”
Ramirez cited a 2014 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll that found Bogota had the most dangerous public transport for women out of 16 of the world’s largest capitals and New York.
He also noted a survey by the mayor’s women’s rights office that found 64 percent of 17,399 women quizzed said they had been victims of some kind of sexual harassment on public transport, including groping.
Every day at least 800,000 women use Bogota’s TransMilenio bus system. The city of 9.6 million people has no trains.
Ramirez said elected councillors are scheduled to vote on the bill on Friday and he is confident it will pass after councillors overwhelming backed the measure during a first round of voting.
But the initiative has attracted controversy, with some critics saying it does little to change how men behave towards women in a country known for its macho culture.
Councillor Lucia Bastidas, who voted against the bill, called it “segregationist”.
Other critics, including the mayor’s transport department, have said it will be impossible to ensure the women-only seat rule is adhered to during rush hour when buses are overcrowded.
Carlos Gonzalez, 20, described the initiative as “discriminatory against men”.
“I consider myself to be a gentleman and I usually give up my seat for a woman but I don’t think I should be obliged and told to do so,” said Gonzalez, a postman.
In recent decades similar measures, like women-only train carriages and women-only taxis, have been introduced in other cities, including Tokyo, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and New Delhi.
Women's rights groups last month criticised a shadow minister in Britain for saying women-only carriages in trains should be considered, saying this "normalised attacks" rather than addressing the real problem. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)