Last week I sat on the last train of the day from London to Birmingham, praying not to be assaulted.

I had planned to spend the journey podcast editing, but instead I spent much of it listening to two men further up the carriage drunkenly discuss what they would do to me, how they would do it and in what order.

If I got up to move carriage, I would be attracting even more attention from them and potentially endanger myself further by having to walk past them. The train manager did not appear for the duration of the journey so I had nobody to whom I could report my worries discreetly. There was one other person in the carriage – a middle-aged woman who could only support me without endangering herself by offering a sympathetic head tilt and eye-roll.

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I endured the soundtrack of my pending assault right up until Coventry when, gladly, both men departed the train. The internalised misogyny engrained in me tried to calculate how I had invited this unbidden attention, but peering down at my soy sauce-stained trackies and oversized hoodie I surmised that the only part I played was merely being female.

On that night, the availability of a woman-only carriage would have felt like a literal lifeline. When stood on the platform, choosing between a carriage where I could podcast edit in peace and a carriage where two men would laugh as they decided who would “go first”, would have been a no-brainer. It would have, quite simply, been the choice between getting home safely and not.

The National Wales: The topic of women-only carriages is being discussed in the Scottish Parliament. Photo: PAThe topic of women-only carriages is being discussed in the Scottish Parliament. Photo: PA

The rollout of woman-only carriages is being discussed in Holyrood at present. Scotland’s new transport minister Jenny Gilruth commenced the debate by citing her personal experiences of feeling threatened whilst on trains. Her account was relatable to most female public-transport users, emphasising that my experience was just one of many I’ll endure in my lifetime and will be reflected in the experiences of millions of women across the country.

The debate has inevitably been met with backlash, with some protesting that “not all men” are perpetrators of assault, therefore not all men should be excluded from these spaces. When I consider the multitude of personal experiences of harassment I have endured, then combine them with the experiences of all other women in my life, the incessant bleating of #NotAllMen on Twitter brings me absolutely no comfort. Funny, that.

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A more rational line of protest has been presented by LGBTQ+ activists, stating that gay and trans people are just as much at risk of violence from men as women are, yet a woman-only carriage would potentially exclude them from this much-needed protection.

It struck me that in my bid to protect myself and other cis women, I had not even considered the other marginalised demographics in need of protection – even the snowflakiest among us have lapses in privilege awareness, it seems.

I have very limited time for those cis straight women arguing that we have different needs to those in the LGBTQ+ community and should therefore receive separate protection. Whilst the aggression we face may be different in nature, the perpetrators remain the same.

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The argument straight out of the TERF handbook that trans women still present a threat to cis women because they were assigned male at birth, is statistically nonsense: violence against cis women by trans women is committed at a rate so miniscule that we are more likely to be struck by lightning.

Whilst I watch on from Wales with envy as Holyrood’s parliamentarians debate the women-only carriage rollout, I cannot ignore the plea of these LGBTQ+ activists – to acknowledge that they too need protecting. I originally felt conflicted – I didn’t want women to miss out on a chance to be protected, but neither would I want to gatekeep whilst trans and gay people remained at risk.

The solution therefore, surely, is to exclude the perpetrators. Why have a carriage which only protects one group whilst leaving the others at risk, when you could simply remove the prominent risk to protect everyone else? Carriages which do not allow cis straight men to enter would not only protect those most at risk of violence, but also highlight the origin of the problem. We’d be treating the route of the problem, instead of botching a semi-efficient solution.

The National Wales: Mel OwenMel Owen

As delighted as I would be to see the Senedd roll out train carriages from which straight cis men are banned, I of course know this is a mere pipe dream. The backlash would be explosive, because whilst us ‘snowflakes’ may bear the reputation of crying whenever we are triggered, there is no demographic more prone to a tantrum than a cis straight man who’s told that a door is closed to him.

These safer carriages may never be attainable, but surely there is a point where we accept that the problem is with the perpetrators, not the victims.

Mel Owen is a presenter, political commentator and campaigner for racial equality. She is the creator of one of Wales' most popular podcasts, Mel, Mel, Jal.

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