Mexico's metro keeps women safe from roving hands

Jan McGirk
Saturday 17 September 2011 14:22
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To ride the Mexico City underground at peak hours on a working day, a passenger must forget personal space.

To ride the Mexico City underground at peak hours on a working day, a passenger must forget personal space.

Close encounters are inevitable, and the five million daily commuters sometimes have to breathe in unison if they want room to expand their lungs.

Because of complaints about roving hands in these crowded conditions, for years the first three metro carriages have been off limits to adult males during morning and evening rush hours. But in a controversial move this month, the transportation board launched an experiment to reserve the front section for women and children during all operating times, 20 hours per day.

This comes in response to an upsurge of working women who dare to speak out against harassment. Initially, this service will be limited to the Green Line, which runs through the historic heart of Mexico City to the Plaza Garibaldi, where mariachis in silver-studded trousers serenade senoritas.

Some male commuters argue that these privileges for women will inflict restrictions on the rest and ensure the remaining carriages will be even more packed. Costing only 10p for an unlimited ride, the Mexico City metro is the world's cheapest and arguably the most crowded. Station guards are required to separate men from women without causing offence. For Juan Torres, who has stood metro duty for seven years, such a task can be daunting.

"You sometimes get gay men in drag riding up front," Mr Torres said. "But lumpy women in trousers are more of a problem. It's hard to tell sometimes. "You get some with short hair and even moustache, and they get upset if you question them. I rely on my own judgement."

Girls who travel in the men's cars often emerge in tears. Coral Guerrero, a 17-year-old student, avoids rush hours and is unwilling to ride the metro unaccompanied. "Lots of Mexican men do show courtesy, but when you are crammed in so tight, there is not even room to slap away a hand when you get groped," she said.

Some foreign guidebooks recommend that subway riders try to maintain a six-inch buffer zone on all sides to avoid getting their pockets picked or being manhandled, but in practice it is impossible.

Objections to unwanted fondling far outnumber complaints about thefts.

"At night, with the drunks, it can get ugly," said Carmen Martinez, a 60-year-old activist from the Women's Regional Association. "So I ride with the ladies. It smells better, and there is usually a place to sit."

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