Last week, the STC metro line in Mexico City had an unusual seat covering installed to combat sexual harassment: a seat shaped like a male a torso and genitals. The seat, which targets men, was designed to make them experience what it feels like to be sexually harassed. A message on the ground opposite the said seat reads, “It’s annoying to sit here, but doesn’t compare to the sexual violence women suffer on their daily trips.”
According to the Institute of Women, at least 126,000 women were sexually harassed on the overcrowded metro of Mexico City in 2015. The rise of sexual assault against women in the Mexican capital between 2010 and 2015 drove the mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, to propose an initiative of distributing whistles to female commuters as a way to call for help the instant they are sexually harassed. But that initiative was strongly bashed by feminists and civil society, who argued that handing out whistles to women on the metro patronized them instead of addressing the criminals themselves. Opposers also believed that the initiative suggested police would be at-the-ready to respond to such incidences.
The government responded to this criticism by pointing out the success of a similar experiment in Yangon, Myanmar, but later reassured civil society that this just one of many measures that the municipality will implement to address the rise in sexual violence.
Mexico City previously provided women with pink buses and women-only subway trains, both of which were met with strong opposition campaigns, with activists arguing that the initiatives reinforced rape culture by normalizing violence and placing the responsibility on women to avoid sexual harassment.
Similar measures to combat sexual harassment have been taken in other Latin American cities. In 2014, the Peruvian capital Lima deployed a task force of women to the city’s transport system to act as bait to catch offenders. A team of female police officers – dubbed ‘Angels of the TransMilenio’ – deployed a similar strategy in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, to arrest 129 men in 2014.