Monday, August 4, 2008

Scenario #7: Is this an abuse of women's rights?

One thing I love about here is the local service system. A service here is 12-passenger van that transports people along a set bus route. I really love them because they are extremely frequent, often one per minute, and quite cheap. Because they are relatively small, I maintain that there's a sense of community on them that one doesn't get on big impersonal buses. Unfortunately, I've heard they're phasing out services and replacing them with full-sized buses, so public transportation may soon not be as much fun as it is now.

There's an interesting phenomenon that sometimes happens on services. Because they have a limited number of seats, they fill up quickly when traffic is heavy or when there is a lag between services on a given route. When the twelve seats are full, that's it, no more space. If you're a girl, that is. If you're a girl and you flag down a full service, it won't stop for you. And if you're a girl and there is a full service stopped at a traffic light, you're expected to not get on.

But if you're a guy and you flag down a full service, it very well may stop because the driver assumes you'll be willing to stoop in the aisle in order to reach your destination - after all you don't know how long it will be until a non-full service might come by! And of course, if you're a guy, and a full service pulls up at a red light, why not open the side door and crowd yourself into whatever empty space is left?

Last night I was heading home during rush hour and waited quite a while for my service. A full one had come by and not stopped, me being a girl and all... Then a service came by that had an empty seat or two but didn't see me waving madly at it because there was another van blocking my line of vision to the driver. Then about 20 minutes passed before the next service came, which was not only full after such a long wait, but also had three men crouched in the tiny aisle space.

So when the next service headed in my direction pulled up to the traffic light, I got in. Even though all the seats were taken, the aisle had not yet had any takers, so I crouched down over the wheel well. I'd been waiting all this time with a friend, and when I told her I would do this, she had been shocked. Then when I'd told her that before long someone would give me his seat and take the crouching position himself, she had laughed and nodded.

And that is exactly what happened. I settled in for a long uncomfortable ride, but about 300 metres down the road, a gentleman in a military uniform got up and insisted I took his seat.

Now seated properly as a woman should, I began to feel a bit guilty. I've generally thought that it's an injustice to women that we are not given an equal opportunity to board a full service, and for that reason I've assumed the crouching-in-the-aisle position many times in order to reach my destination and assert my equal rights. Why should only men have that right?! But then I looked at the kind older army dude who had given me his seat and I realised that he'd waited 300 metres to offer me his seat because he'd been waiting to see who else would be a gentleman first. When no one else offered, he felt he had to. It wasn't really fair to him that, because of his culture's moral values regarding respecting women, I forced him out of his seat. Perhaps this 'injustice' is in fact only an unexpected consequence of the respect shown to women in Arab culture.

1 comment:

tony said...

I recall another woman who refused to be treated unequally on a bus in 1953. I think Ms. Rosa Parks would have been very proud of you Katie.

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