In a radical move, the Maharashtra government recently approved a ‘Mumbai 24x7 policy’, where shops, malls and eateries in the non-residential areas of Mumbai now have the option of remaining open ‘round the clock’ from January 27. The logic behind this move was that it would generate employment and revenue, along the lines of the thriving night economy of London, for the five lakh people working in the city’s services sector. Additionally, in order to maintain safety, and curb vehicular encroachment and noise pollution, the policy is restricted to non-residential areas that have their own CCTV surveillance and parking facilities, and where decibel levels can be monitored and curtailed. Other states seem to be keen to follow Mumbai’s example. Madhya Pradesh has already implemented pilot runs of the 24 hours policy, in Safara Market in Indore and New Market in Bhopal. Gujarat, too, had toyed with this idea during the Ahmedabad Shopping Festival organised as part of Vibrant Gujarat in January 2019.
While the policy is intended to provide a boost to Mumbai’s night-time economy and employment, it remains to be seen if the benefits accrue to both men and women. In order to ensure women’s safety, Section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act, states that “no woman shall be required or allowed to work in any factory except between the hours of 6 AM and 7 PM.” An amendment to the Factories Act in Maharashtra states that the night shift for women shall be allowed only if the employer provides adequate safeguards in the factory with regards to women by ensuring “protection of dignity and honour, protection from sexual harassment, and remain fully responsible for safety within the factory premises and during transit from workplace to their home.” How much the new policy benefits working women will therefore depend on the interpretation as well as implementation of such safeguards.
For example, the amended law can be beneficial for Business Process Outsourcing companies that require employees to work night shifts, and are willing to hire female employees despite the added costs. However, the legislation, which requires that night-shift for women will only be allowed if adequate safety measures are in place, can have a negative effect of filtering employees based on hiring and other costs.
Though women’s labour force participation in the urban workforce for women of all ages has risen slightly from 15.5 percent in 2011-2012 to 15.9 percent in 2017-2018, paid employment for women in India does not necessarily correlate with women’s freedom and agency. Such divergences are likely to get amplified when an increasing workforce might still be constrained by a narrow perception of what constitutes a ‘feminine’ job. Large numbers of women workers are overcrowded into a small number of ‘female occupations’, driving female wages down. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of 2017-2018, shows that the “trade, hotel, restaurant” sector employed most of the men, while “other services” – excluding hotel, trade, restaurant, and manufacturing – employed most of the women. As the hotel, trade, and restaurant sectors are the ones where the 24 hours policy is meant to improve employment, it must be ensured that women are made to be a part of this growth story as well.
It needs to be examined how the Factories Act and the Shops and Establishments Act can be amended further so that arrangements for basic safety can be enforceable statutory conditions for companies meeting a specific and adequate turnover, regardless of whether a woman is employed in it or not. This will create conditions in which women can partake in the night-time economy without prejudice, and are also secure. In other words, laws that superficially help women to get employment, but end up having the opposite effect due to various reasons, can be amended and made useful for this purpose in consultation with experts.
Mumbai, which is known as a relatively safer city for women to work in, has only 28 percent of women visible amongst all the people in public spaces. The perceived “safeness” of Mumbai is thus by default, and not by design; because the opportunity for a woman to be present in unsafe circumstances is greatly reduced due to the lack of industrial zones in Mumbai. Mumbai’s major zones of industrial activity are limited to the Santacruz Electronic Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) at Powai; Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ) at Airoli, and Mindspace at Malad. The rest of the industrial activity has either shifted out to the satellite cities of Mumbai, or other smaller cities of Maharashtra. These suburban areas in Mumbai have become increasingly dense due to the overflowing population in the expanding city, and density gives the illusion of visibility and safety. Research shows that “women have more access to public spaces in mixed use areas, where shops and business establishments are open late into the night, ensuring activity at all times.” However, a “default response from decision makers when the provision of adequate infrastructure for women is discussed” is that there are not enough women in public spaces to warrant it. Therefore, while the 24 hours policy law could make it safer for women to be out in the nightscape, laws created for safety in the nighttime must not curb access.
There has been a lot of noise around the new 24 hours policy, including the lack of safety for women. However, instead of simply adding laws to increase the safety of women by decreasing access to work-space (like the night-shift law) and increasing the costs for employers, policies should focus on making infrastructure safe for women, regardless of whether women will work in the space or not. Physical factors such as space and lighting, and social factors such as awareness and capacity building are major determinants of how safe and included women feel. These factors should determine policy-making as opposed to making laws that merely create a victim syndrome as well as an unhealthy perception that women need to be protected from men in the work and public spaces. The Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, has outlined mechanisms that can be used for operationalising and institutionalising gender budgeting. These include gender responsive policy appraisal, reporting a Gender Budget Statement, capacity building of government officials, generating outcome budgets, and conducting impact assessments and audits. The government of Maharashtra has also identified gender budgeting as a key strategy in the State Policy for Women 2014. Using this mechanism, architects, engineers, and urban planners must work together to generate innovative ideas and discussions surrounding gender-sensitive infrastructure planning and gander-based analyses of spaces. The dispensation of civic amenities, maintenance and creation of civic infrastructure must also include these discussions, which can be included in the budgets, planning, and execution stages as well. Similarly, recognising and felicitating employers who take innovative steps to encourage participation of women in work spaces, 24x7, would help.
The targets of Sustainable Development Goal number 12, “Sustainable cities and communities”, are to make cities safe and sustainable by ensuring access to safe and affordable housing, investing in safe and accessible public transport, creating safe and inclusive green public spaces, and improving urban planning and management in a participatory and inclusive manner. In order to comply with this goal, encourage revenue and employment in a safe and secure manner, the nightlife policy can be rolled out along with the cooperation of civic bodies and the public at-large. The focus should thus be on gender-based planning in the provisioning of civic amenities such as lighting, zoning, policing in ‘unsafe areas’, and providing public transport in ‘unsafe times of the day’. Gender-related infrastructure (women's hostels, crèches, rental housing etc.) apart from municipal infrastructure that enhances women's safety is equally significant. Mumbai, the maximum city, and other cities in India that want to emulate such an idea needs to do much more for women before they can claim to be gender-friendly cities and make the 24x7 policy beneficial to all stakeholders in a sustained manner.
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Aditi Ratho was an Associate Fellow at ORFs Mumbai centre. She worked on the broad themes like inclusive development gender issues and urbanisation.Read More +