Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Girls & Women

A 'Penis Seat' in Mexico Shocks Men Into Confronting Sexual Harassment

A UN Women campaign launched in Mexico City to tackle sexual harassment has made men stand up and take notice.

The “penis seat” on the Mexico City metro is labelled “for men only,” and comes complete with a moulded erect penis and protruding male chest. The video for the campaign has been viewed over 800,000 times, and shows a number of shocked men attempting to use the seat, to no avail.

According to The Independent , a note on the floor in front of the seat reads "It's uncomfortable to sit here, but that's nothing compared to the sexual violence suffered by women on their commute."

The plastic seat is only a temporary measure, to draw attention to the fact that 90% of women in Mexico City have experienced some form of sexual violence on public transport. It’s in conjunction with the #NoEsDeHombres (“It’s Not Manly”) campaign, a social experiment series where men are exposed to situations usually faced by women every day. Another video projected male bum’s onto big screens in the underground. 

"Most men do not consider sexual harassment as violence. Saying things to a women, whistling at them, are considered absolutely normal,” said Ana Güezmes from UN Women Mexico, at the launch of the campaign . "The campaign seeks to change (this attitude), to stop men thinking that sexual harassment is normal.”

Many different rules have tried and failed to protect women on public transport in Mexico City. For years, only women have been permitted on the first three metro carriages during peak train times. In 2000, this was extended to the rest of the day too . Women-only buses have been trialed, as have city-branded whistles to use when in danger.

Read More: 'Pink Taxis' - Designed to Keep Women Safe -  Are Set to Launch in Pakistan

Not that Mexico is short on creativity. Since last year, a group of feminists who call themselves Hijas de Violencia (the Daughters of Violence) have used punk rock and confetti pistols to protect themselves. Every time they face public harassment, they fire their confetti gun into the face of the assailant, turn on their loudspeakers, and sing the song “Sexista Punk” as abrasively as they can.

“We certainly don’t think we are going to change the world,” said one of the “daughters,” in an interview with AJ+. “But we sure know that we’ve changed ours.”

But, ultimately, none of these measures haves prevented Mexico City from becoming one of the worst cities in the world for sexual harassment. The BBC reports that in a 2013 YouGov survey on global public transportation, Mexico City’s metro was ranked the worst for both physical and verbal abuse. A 2010 UN report also confirmed that Mexico City was the worst in the world for sexual violence against women - nearly half of Mexican women will experience it at least once in their lifetime.

Read More: Paris Bans "Degrading" Ads In Public Places

The controversial “penis seat” has been praised by those who believe that shock tactics are necessary to capture the attention of a city that has ignored its sexual harassment problems for too long. However, it’s stirred a heated debate. Critics argue that it doesn’t engage sufficiently with the core problem — male attitudes towards women. Despite #NoEsDeHombres specifically targeting men, there are some who feel that there is so much more that could still be done.

When 9 out of 10 women experience a form of sexual harrassment on the city's public transport, that is perhaps a dramatic understatement.