SEOUL — For years, there have been growing complaints from female commuters in male-dominated South Korea about being molested. Now partial relief may be in sight--but maybe not.
Beginning in December, the Korea National Railways, which runs the out-of-city part of commuter service into Seoul from suburban Inchon and Suwon, will reserve the front and back cars of each 10-car commuter train for women during the 7-9 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. rush hours, according to Yu Kwang Yon, spokesman for the railways' operations section.
But the Seoul Subway Corp., which takes over responsibility for trains when they go through the city, doesn't like the idea.
"To adopt such a measure would be tantamount to labeling all male passengers as potential sexual molesters," objected Chung Woo Jon, assistant section chief of subway operations, in explaining why the subway authority won't accept the segregated cars even if the National Railways proceeds with its plan.
As a result, women would get exclusive use of the two cars--as well as continued access to any of the other eight cars--only as far as Yongdungpo, or six stations away from the center of Seoul. After that, men would be free to enter the cars.
The planned system would not affect trains coming into the other side of the city, nor a circular subway system of 43 stations within the city.
Both officials said they know of no other city in the world that has designated female-only cars on commuter trains.
Women's organizations have complained for years about the lack of official action to deal with male harassers who take advantage of rush-hour overcrowding in the commuter trains that run to and from the capital city of 11 million people. The women say they are victims of groping, rubbing and squeezing. Trying to move out of range of the offenders is difficult in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowding, they say, adding that men confronted deny the accusations and instead accuse their accusers of pushing.
Surveys taken last year found that 68% of the 1.5 million daily passengers are men and that most subway riders don't like the idea of segregated cars. Separate cars for women "would inconvenience men," subway official Chung said.
To which railway official Yu responded, the main goal of the segregated cars would be to protect "physically weak" female passengers "who often have a difficult time" because of the crowding.