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Shanghai women protest metro prudishness

world Updated: Jun 27, 2012 01:04 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times

A warning from Shanghai metro authorities urging women to be conscious about how they dress while travelling in trains has sparked strong reactions.

The post was put up on China’s Twitter-like social networking site, Weibo, along with the photograph of an unidentified woman traveler wearing a transparent dress.

The post said in Chinese: "Dressing like that, it would be unusual for a lady not be harassed. There can be perverts on the subway and it's hard to get rid of them. Please have self respect, ladies."

It provoked immediate reaction on Chinese social sites, many commenting that the warning was sexist in nature.

The controversy generated more talk after two women protesters, wearing black veils, carried signs on subway platform and trains, saying: "I can be sexy, but you cannot harass," and "yes to cool dress, no to dirty man."

Unlike, for example, in New Delhi there are no separate compartments for women travellers in Shanghai and Beijing. Millions travel in the extensive network of subways in these two cities; Beijing for one has a network of more than 320 km of subway lines crisscrossing the city. During the morning and evening rush hours, the trains are packed to capacity. Complaints of harassment from women are rare; or at least complaints are rarely made officially. But earlier this month, there were two high profile complaints of sexual harassment by women in traveling by the Shanghai metro.

The warning could be interpreted as a response to more harassments complaints.

A spokesman for the metro company denied allegations to local media that the post was justifying sexual harassment, and said it was meant to be a "kind reminder" to women.

"As the city's subway operator, we have the responsibility to warn women of the potential danger of sexual harassment on the subway," he told the Global Times newspaper.

According to the BBC, majority of tens of thousands of internet users responding to a Sina Weibo survey, however, agreed that women should dress conservatively when taking public transportation.

"Dressing appropriately in public is a matter of public courtesy," said one micro blog user. "Asking women to be self-respecting in the way they dress does not equate to justifying sexual harassment."