Referred to as "Solo Damas," which translates as "Ladies Only" because of the statement the bus drivers make when confused men miss the sign and attempt to board, a single-sex bus system in Mexico City, Mexico has been implemented. While this concept may seem strange or antiquated to many American on-lookers north of the border, the introduction of these buses is revolutionary in that it serves to protect women from the frequent sexual harassment they received while aboard the crowded co-ed buses. "It doesn't matter whether you're young, pretty, big, or old. They don't respect you," declared one interviewee on the New York Times video report on the issue as she expressed her disgust over the harassment she experienced and witnessed on public transportation as well as anger over the fact that so many men refused to give up their seats to women with children or the elderly. The harassment went far beyond words, one interviewee explained, noting that some men would be as bold to touch or fondle women on the trains and buses and would, at times, even rub against women as if to mimic sex acts. Women are still allowed to ride co-ed, but many have opted to use the single-sex transportation to avoid the aforementioned. The new buses are safer, though infrequent, sometimes requiring a wait of 20 minutes or more.
Nevertheless, many women in Mexico City are pleased with the results. They have more space on the bus and can avoid the hassle of being objectified when trying to get from point a to point b. Not surprisingly, a few men are less than thrilled. They still must deal with the crowds on buses. Some of the male interviewees on the NY Times video expressed that the buses were long over due, as they too had witnessed countless incidences of disrespectful harassment, yet others, mainly the older respondents, felt that the harassment was typical, just a reflection of being a bearer of the XY chromosomes, as if aggressive sexuality were somehow plugged into their DNA. Others also blamed women, holding them accountable for their own harassment as a result of low-cut blouses or short skirts. Yet in Mexico City's heat, how else would they expect ladies to dress? In spouting off one of the most tired excuses for lack of self control, these interviewees seemingly fell prey to instincts and the fashion industry as opposed to just owning up to their vices. The single-sex bus initiative is one of several attempts for Mexico City to rid itself of state-sponsored machismo. Though women, as in most nations, still make less than men and have limited legal protections against sexual harassment, the government is taking notes. Single-sex subway cars (in limited number) had already been implemented, though mainly as a way of reducing crowds. And though there are only four routes who have single-sex buses, Mexico City is set to expand the program to cover 15 routes total. In addition, the Institute of Women in Mexico City (El Instituto de las Mujeres del Distrito Federal), a government-backed women's advocacy group, has been working closely with the municipal government to institute a public campaign to educate men on the illegality of "inappropriate touching." Mexico City is also set to launch an ordinance in March that will make it easier for women to have legal recourse against men who harass them.
Considering the highly publicized rape, torture, and murder of women factory workers in La Ciudad Juarez, also referred to by the Spanish term "feminicidios," as well as the less-than subtle sexism prevalent in wedding vows (which they rejected and revised in 2006), and a shaky stance on abortion rights (as abortion was just legalized in Mexico City in 2007, and Mexico City was also the site of the discussions surrounding what it now known as "the global gag rule," which prohibits the application of government funding to agencies to proliferate education and tools for safer sex if they also provide abortions), and not to mention, the element of machismo as an assumed cultural norm, this is a highly progressive step for Mexico.
Now I am just waiting for the same types of buses and subway cars in NYC and DC (ok, every major city in the US lol) where similar street and public transportation harassment is commonplace. I'll keep my fingers crossed :-)
- Wendi Muse