Ladies first.

At least that was the idea behind the creation of women-only train cars in Guangzhou, China. But nearly nine months after Guangzhou’s subway operator designated women-only cars to help curb sexual harassment, it seems that men are still the ones rushing in, the New York Times reported.

The Guangzhou Metro announced last June that it would begin reserving one car on every train during rush hours for women “to raise awareness about caring for and respecting women," an official said.

The reserved cars were also intended to “stop any chance of women falling victim to harassment while riding the subway," Su Zhongyang, a political advisor to Guangzhou Metro, said.

But it doesn’t seem to have worked.

When the women-only cars were launched, officials anticipated that "couples, friends and families may want to stay together,” meaning that some men riding in the all-women cars were expected. However, riders told the New York Times that the designated cars are packed with passengers, many of whom are male.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

“It’s basically all the men trying to squeeze in,” Lu Lili, a 28-year-old woman, told the New York Times.

Guangzhou is China’s second most populous city — with roughly the population of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago combined — meaning that public transportation can get particularly packed making it easy for people to get away with inappropriate sexual contact. During rush hour, each car has about 310 passengers, Ye Zichuan, the head of the the publicity department for Guangzhou Metro, told the New York Times.

Between 2015 and 2017, 74 incidents of sexual harassment on the Guangzhou Metro were reported, according to the Guangzhou police — though it’s likely that many more instances went unreported.

One woman told the New York Times that she had been groped on the train.

“But because there were so many people, you don’t know who did it, so it’s difficult to call anyone out,” she said. “You don’t dare to make a scene in the car,” she added.

And while the cars are labeled “for women,” Ye said they cannot legally force men out of the designated cars.

In Shenzhen, “women priority” cars launched around the same time as Guangzhou’s “women-only” cars are also packed with male passengers, according to the South China Morning Post. In fact, according to the Beijing Youth Daily, there were nearly twice as many men as women riding in “women priority” cars.

Read more: A Video of a Woman Being Sexually Assaulted on a Moroccan Bus Has Sparked Fury

While the state-run publication, China Daily, controversially said that sexual harassment is a Western problem that has not affected China, the US-based non profit, Stop Street Harassment, found that 70% of Chinese citizens surveyed in 2002 in Beijing said they had been sexually harassed. Nearly 60% said they were harassed on the bus. 

Polls taken before Shenzhen created “women priority” cars also showed that 81.9% of people believe sexual harassment occurs on the train.

Though the all-female cars have been met with mixed response, there is still hope that, if enforced, the cars will have a positive impact on the frequency of sexual harassment.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of women’s rights and gender equality. You can take action here to call on world leaders to amend gender discriminatory policies to prevent sexual violence against women.


Demand Equity

China’s Women-Only Subway Cars Are Still Full of Men

By Daniele Selby