By Bill Heaney
How safe are women aboard public transport? Tory Tess White asked transport minister Jenny Gilruth to provide an update on the consultation with women and women’s organisations regarding their safety while using the public transport system.
Ms Jenny Gilruth told MSPs: “Women and girls deserve to travel in safety on Scotland’s public transport system. That is why, earlier this year, I committed to undertake a consultation on women’s safety across our public transport network.
“That will include working with national and local organisations that represent the interests of a cross-section of women in society, as well as with groups that represent female staff who work on the public transport network.”
“Options to take forward the work will be further informed by discussions with women’s groups and organisations, trade union partners and wider stakeholders.
“That includes discussions with Engender, which I will be meeting in a couple of weeks, and the British Transport Police, whom I met recently.
“Once the scope of the work and the options as to how best to consult women on this sensitive issue are agreed, I will provide an update on how we will take forward our programme of engagement and the timescales around that.”
However Tess White told her: “Last year, there were 46 sexual assaults against women on Scotland’s railways, which was the highest number in a decade, and 301 women were unacceptably threatened, harassed or commonly assaulted.
“That is just the tip of the iceberg; the figure is likely to be much higher because the gender of the victim was not known in more than 2,500 incidents. Those figures are sickening.
“Every day, women are fearful that they will be victimised in a train carriage or on a station platform. What urgent action will the Scottish Government take now to ensure that women can travel safely on public transport?”
Ms Gilruth told her: “More generally in relation to women’s safety on public transport, as the member alluded, there are data gaps. We know that that is because women are far more likely not to report sexual harassment when it happens and that, if they do report it, it is likely to be after the event.
“To that end, I have instructed my officials to take forward a programme of analysis, which will allow for better data collection in Scotland while recognising that the pandemic has impacted women’s experiences of public transport.
“Given that it is a sensitive topic, it is vital that the scope of the work is right. This morning, I spoke to the Scottish Rail Holdings Ltd board about it. I am keen to work with the board, and I recognise that the work will also have potential benefits for staff safety, which the member alluded to. I also look forward to addressing the Women in Rail conference next month and hearing from women who work on our railways about their experiences.
“Following my meeting with Engender, I would be more than happy to meet the member to discuss any suggestions that she might have to ensure that the consultation is conducted as appropriately as possible, so that we have the data to improve women’s experiences across the public transport network.”