May 2, 2024 opinion

Women-only spaces are necessary, not sexist. Here’s why

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Maria Mitko in Warsaw, Poland

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Japan, July 22, 2010. Some trains have cars reserved for women during peak hours (morning until 9 a.m. and evening from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.).

Picture by: Christopher Eden | Flickr

In an ideal world, initiatives like Uber for women, women-only gyms, women-only train carriages and other spaces wouldn’t be necessary.

Women and non-binary people would feel safe and wouldn’t have to worry about catcalls or harassment while walking alone. We wouldn’t feel the need to cross the street or message our friends with “Hey, if I don’t text you in 10 minutes, start worrying.”

But, unfortunately, women often feel uncomfortable and unsafe, especially in male-dominated spaces.

Women-only spaces are still necessary in the 21st century, and that doesn’t mean we’re taking a step back from the equality we have been fighting for.

According to a study from 2005, the fear women feel is considered ‘obvious’ and an ‘effect of their [women’s] nature’. In my opinion, this misconception is not only disrespectful towards women but can also be harmful.

Disregarding women’s issues creates an unnecessary barrier between the sexes and can make women feel less important – but do our troubles matter less?

The answer is: they matter just as much. Women-only spaces have existed for hundreds of years. McIver’s Ladies Baths is a swimming area for women and children (boys up to 13) only. It has been a safe place for women to swim comfortably since 1876 and is the last remaining women-only seawater pool in Australia.

Despite the progress made in the fight for gender equality, it’s disheartening to see that the need for places where women can feel safe and relaxed has not decreased.

When discussing modern women-only spaces, it is crucial to also mention the growth of selective taxi services.

In 2022, Uber expanded a ‘Women Rider Preference’ to 23 countries, which allows women or non-binary drivers to request only female passengers. The Women Only ride-type by Bolt, introduced in South Africa in 2020, makes it possible for female users to request female drivers, and vice versa. It would be great if female passengers could always choose a female driver, if they wanted.

I don’t often use these platforms, but when I do, and a female driver is available – I choose that option, especially when it’s dark outside and I’m alone.

Even when using Uber during the day and having a male driver, I make sure to be alert and not get distracted, keeping my eyes on the map and checking if the driver is following the route to my destination. I don’t feel the need to do all that with a female driver.

Going to the gym, as a young woman or any woman for that matter, often means dealing with men constantly looking at you.

Additionally, there are frequent cases of harassment, catcalls and objectification – in fact, nearly 71% of surveyed women reported experiencing an uncomfortable interaction at the gym.

Women-only gyms are a great solution to the many negative experiences women can face at co-ed gyms. With their rising popularity, they provide women with a safe and supportive environment, which ultimately matters the most.

I believe we should also dedicate time to address the root of the problem, which is the behaviour of some men, by holding them accountable for their actions.

And while opponents can claim that the exclusion of men amounts to sex discrimination, many argue that women-only spaces are a solution to gender inequality. These places prioritise women’s well-being and ultimately, have no negative effect on anyone.

Even though I understand the concerns of opponents, I believe that being unable to enter a women-only gym is a small price to pay for the safety and comfort of others, especially when there are hundreds of other facilities available.

In many cases, the existence of women-only spaces are about more than just safety

I believe a comforting and safe environment is crucial for being an active part of society. A supportive environment is characterised by understanding and companionship and building connections with people who share similar experiences can bring individuals closer together.

This is especially essential for women, who are often marginalised or treated as less important.

That’s why newspaper sections dedicated to women are, in my opinion, a valuable initiative. They allow us to be aware of issues and happenings concerning women around the globe.

One example would be the Women’s Desk, here at Harbingers’ Magazine, which I initiated just a few weeks ago. It will be easier to find articles concerning girls and young women, and I hope it encourages our writers to bring to light what they deem important to talk about.

This initiative, along with other women-only spaces, are necessary. And apart from being helpful, who are they harming?

Written by:

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Maria Mitko

Women’s Desk editor

Warsaw, Poland

Born in 2007, Maria lives in Warsaw, Poland, where she attends Witkacy High School and prepares to study English Literature.

She volunteers at a public library where she organises a board game club. She loves listening to music, reading good books and watching movies. Maria’s favourite animals are dogs, of which she has two – Rudolf and Charlie.’

Edited by:

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Jefferson He

Editor-in-chief

London, United Kingdom

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