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Monday, 11 May 2015

The end of "Women and Children First?"

"Women and Children First!" was the cry as the SS Titanic began to slip beneath the waves of the North Atlantic over one hundred years ago. The policy was such an ironclad element of European culture that some men reportedly survived only by passing as women, and one of the richest men in the world went down with the ship rather than taking a woman's place.

That ethos still survives, but barely. In a fire aboard an Adriatic ferry just last year, causing the death of ten passengers in the mayhem which followed, one survivor complained, "They didn't take into consideration the women or the children, nothing." Another, who was rescued along with her 2-year-old daughter, told the Associated Press, "They called first on women and children to be evacuated from the ship."  So while officially the rule still applies, apparently there are fewer Europeans willing to implement it.

Yet in the aftermath of the Katmandu earthquake last month, there was some consideration given to women and children--along with the elderly of both sexes, in the first few flights out from the damaged airport.
This can be traced to the Nepali culture having more regard for actual disability than sex. The World Bank reported:
The Nepal Motor Vehicle and Transport Management Act requires all public transport to have special reserved seats for women. This study shows little evidence to support this provision. Provisions of this nature are regarded as short term solutions and do not address the underlying societal attitudes and norms which currently allow harassment to happen. The provision can be interpreted as maintaining the subordinate position of women (need for protection), and there was a strong feeling among many women who participated in this study, especially younger ones, that the approach should be one which enables women to enjoy similar freedoms to men, i.e. right to travel safely on all public transport. Mostly, people preferred the idea of priority seats for pregnant women, parents carrying small children, elderly and persons with reduced ability to stand rather than for women.
A pregnant woman of any age--especially one carrying a toddler--and any handicapped person, is much more in need of special consideration than a typical older teenager of either sex. As the biblical consideration for a woman as the weaker vessel is extinguished in Western culture, one would hope that it is at least replaced by a logical hierarchy of need, rather than a mad free-for all or battle between interest groups.

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