Weighing Women's-Only Ridesharing: The Pros and Cons of Chariot for Women

Christine Sarkis, April 27, 2016
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    With ride-sharing services on the rise in most of the world, especially as a tool for travelers, an Uber-like service that's exclusively for women and their children has been a topic of debate since the company announced an April 19 launch in Boston. Most of the Chariot for Women buzz has been about the legality of such a service, but for female travelers it's also about an undeniable usefulness in the face of staggering sexual assault statistics, and whether or not female-only transportation's rise is a good thing.

    In the past few days Chariot for Women has postponed its launch due to "an overwhelming response from future drivers and passengers alike," renamed itself SafeHer, and broadened its scope beyond just Boston.

    It's unclear when exactly you can expect to see Chariot on your city's streets. In the meantime, SmarterTravel's Christine Sarkis and Shannon McMahon have sounded off on their differing opinions of the service and why they will or will not be using it.

    Here's what they have to say.

    CS: If it comes to a city near me, I'll be trying Chariot for Women. Why? Because every time I request an Uber, in the back of my head I'm remembering all the articles I've read about Uber-related sexual assault. And usually in those articles, there's also a statistic about sexual assault by taxi drivers to show that Uber's rate is really not so bad. The comparison I'd like to see is the no-sexual-assault-at-all one. And it's possible that Chariot for Women could provide that.

    I dream of a world in which I can get into a cab or a cab-alike and not automatically catalogue the placement of the door handle in the very unlikely but still possible case that things go bad. Until then, I like the idea that if I'm in a situation that feels vulnerable—if I'm alone at night, for instance—there could be a pretty-much-definitely-no-sexual-assault option. Is Chariot for Women even legal? It's unclear, and for good reasons. Is it kind of a bummer that there's even a niche for a service like this? Definitely, both on the driver and passenger side of things.

    But if it manages to clear its initial legal hurdles and actually launches, Chariot for Women will be part of a single-gender space trend that already has roots around the world. Women-only hotel floors have been growing in popularity (and have run into the legal issue as well). And for the last century, many countries have experimented with (and some still have) women-only areas on trains, metros, and buses.

    Clearly this is not the long-term answer, but it does address a real current concern. In the meantime, I'm happy to know there's a whole generation of parents, caregivers, teachers, and families that are helping create a world in which someday, maybe, there will be no need for women-only cab-alikes.

    "You're in charge of your body, and she's in charge of her body." "When he says don't touch him, you stop right away." These are the things I find myself saying every day to my toddler and preschooler. And as I say it for the billionth time while my two-year-old girl takes a swipe at my four-year-old boy, I understand that this may be about refereeing siblings now, but really it's the foundation for a world view in which sexual assault isn't ever okay. Around the country and the planet, more parents and caregivers than ever before are laying this same foundation.

    But it may be a while. Until then, sign me up for Chariot for Women and all of the like-minded transportation and lodging variations around the world.

    Because the women of the world still need them.

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    SM: I think most women would agree with me when I say that the threat of sexual assault is palpable far too often—especially for those of us who live in cities and rely on public transit and ride-sharing services like Uber. Knowing this also makes me aware that I'm likely part of a minority opinion when I say I won't be using the forthcoming all-female car service, Chariot for Women, when it launches near me.

    This may seem counterintuitive at face value, but there are several aspects of the all-female ride service that irk me, from the questions surrounding its general legality to the fact that it's a manifestation of the types of attitudes that give rise to these types of attacks. It's similar to how I feel about travel in the wake of terror attacks—I'm not going to let the actions of criminals restrict my freedom to do and go where I want, within reason.

    I understand the value in bypassing situations where sexual assaults often occur, but I don't think the answer to preventing attacks on women and developing as a society is to bypass men altogether. Sexual assault isn't a women's issue, it's everyone's issue. It's all of our responsibilities to educate boys and men about the threats that women know too well.

    The attitudes toward and conversations around sexual assault are too often riddled with stigma, so educating people about the sheer amount of assaults (about one in five women will be raped in their lifetime) and ways in which seemingly harmless jokes and language facilitate sexism should come before creating women-only services. Not enough schools and universities make scientifically-correct sexual education mandatory, and it's my personal belief that high schools and colleges should make some form of gender studies mandatory to improve general understanding of feminism and male privilege.

    Female-only subway cars in many countries have been praised for giving women a safe space, but an entire market of women-only transportation is a different story. Separating people by gender works for a little bit, but it's not helping feminism progress, and it's not allowing men who have the right attitudes about women to challenge the views of those who are sexist. How are we supposed to talk about the issue if we let it divide us?

    On the more immediate end of this conversation is the fact that this service may be illegal under sex discrimination laws. I'll leave it to experts and our government to decide, but I think there's a vast difference between female-only subway car options and an entire service that only accepts females and their children, including boys under 13. That latter part also makes me pause—is 14 the age we've collectively decided that boys become dangerous?

    Why draw a line when we can come together in the face of prejudice?

    You tell us: Would you use or advocate using this service? Comment below.

    More from SmarterTravel:

    Read the original story: Weighing Women's-Only Ridesharing: The Pros and Cons of Chariot for Women by Christine Sarkis and Shannon McMahon, who are regular contributors to SmarterTravel.

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