It hasn’t been a great year for women on Brazil’s public transport networks. Since the beginning of 2014, 33 men have been arrested for sexual harassment on the metro in São Paulo alone; worse, a recent survey found that 25 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “women who wear clothes that show off their body deserve to be attacked”. Brazilians even have a special term for men who grope on public transport: encoxadore, which comes from the word for “thigh”.
It’s in reaction to this cheerful collection of facts that the São Paulo Legislative Assembly has approved a bill making women-only carriages mandatory on all metro routes and regional trains. All that’s left is for Geraldo Alckmin, the state governor, to sign the bill into law.
If he does, metro operators will have 90 days to bring the “pink wagons”, which would operate only at peak times, into action. Metro operators would need new signage; they’d also need to find a way of enforcing the new rules.
This is not a new idea. A similar scheme was introduced to tackle harassment in Rio de Janeiro in 2006, though apparently it’s no longer consistently enforced, so it’s hard to tell if it’s actually working.
A women-only metro car in Rio de Janeiro. Image: Mariordo at Wikimedia Commons.
But not everyone in São Paulo is happy with the idea. Signs have appeared on the metro reading: “Deixe as mulheres livres, Não ao vagão rosa”. That translates as: “Let women be free, No to the pink trains.”
At the beginning of August, there were also reports of women handing out pins in metro stations with an accompanying message, instructing men not to grope them unless they want to be "pierced".
Image: Movimento em luta mulheres.
If groped, women can stick the pin into attackers’ clothes, as a form of public shaming: it would, at least, embarrass them in front of a crowded metro carriage.