Months after research data showed that the country is missing out on economic benefits of strong female participation in the workforce, Mumbai, the country’s economic capital, has decided to give a push to draw more women into gainful employment by guaranteeing them better and more equitable access to urban services.
The city’s revised draft development plan proposes a slew of initiatives and policy efforts to bridge the vast gender gap in workplaces. Hardly 16 per cent of the workforce in Mumbai comprises women as per the latest census data. Maharashtra also follows a nationwide trend where urban women lag behind in participation in the economy with heavily urbanised areas such as Mumbai, Thane, Nagpur and Raigad performing the worst on this count.
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So now, the revised development plan has set a new goal, to increase percentage of women in the workforce to at least 25 per cent by 2034.
In November 2015, a survey by McKinsey Global Institute stated that pushing gender equality in the economy could add Rs. 46 lakh crore ($700 billion) to India’s GDP by 2025. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta said “social equity” was one of his top four objectives in redrafting the plan. “When we met gender groups, we realised that only 16 to 17 percent of the workforce in Mumbai comprises women. We want to adopt measures that will correct this imbalance,” Mehta said.
Getting more women to workplaces would mean having to guarantee access to rental or affordable housing for women. Taking this into account, the draft development plan has reserved one plot in each of its 24 municipal wards for housing or hostels meant for women. “We have designated such spaces as multi-purpose housing for women,” said Ramanath Jha, an Officer-On-Special-Duty, who is overseeing the DP revision process. The minimum buildable area for each such amenity has been fixed as 1000 sq m or 10,764 square feet. In a nutshell, this means officials have planned for construction of 24 women-exclusive housing facilities, which shall be collectively spread over 2.58 lakh square feet.
Provisions have also been made to set up 24 new skill centres or Aadhaar Kendras — one in each ward— for women, presumably for skill development purposes. There is another proposal to set up dedicated areas (minimum 5,382 sq. ft) for women vendors in each ward. If the revised development plan is implemented in letter and spirit, the city will have a Care Centre or a counselling facility for women in each of its 227 electoral constituencies.
Dearth of sanitation facilities on the way to work is another barrier often cited by women. The municipality has claimed that it has drawn up plans to set up more public toilets.
The plan appears good on paper, and is being welcomed by gender activists for now. Nandita Shah of Akshara, among activists that had met Mehta seeking gender parity measures in the planning process and goals of the Development Plan, said they welcomed the attempt to set right the non-inclusion of nearly half the city in its plans.
“We sought four broad measures — increasing participation of women in Mumbai’s workforce; housing and hostels for working women, women in distress, single women, single mothers; toilets and similar amenities for women including naaka workers; and skill development centres, daycare centres, etc. We appreciate that the draft Development Plan proposes to offer these,” Shah said. Akshara expects to be part of the dialogue to fine tune the decisions on who will operate some of these amenities and how.
But women’s groups across the spectrum expressed concern regarding announcements for setting up most of these social amenities on lands currently earmarked as no-development zones (NDZ). “There will remain uncertainty on this promise if it is to be developed on land whose fate itself is unclear. The BMC had asked every assistant commissioner to identify space in each of the 24 wards to develop these skill development centres and more,” said one activist.
The civic body has plans to release lands under NDZ, excluding eco-sensitive areas, for creation of social housing and public amenities.
Whether the proposed initiatives remain a tokenism remains to be seen, said women’s groups, especially given that existing measures ranging from reservations in transportation to jobs and prescribed norms for childcare crèches in corporate parks and commercial centres have remained on paper. “Also, let us understand that mainstreaming gender in planning is going to require the active participation of women at every level of drafting and implementing the Development Plan. How many women are currently involved in this exercise?” remarked an activist.
Gender mainstreaming in urban planning is going to require better safety standards on streets, in public transport, sharper fighting of crime against women, incentivising women to use public transport, these women pointed out. They cite example of cities such as Vienna, where from public parks to mass transport, streetlights to bus routes, urban planning was exhaustively reoriented towards parity in women’s access to urban services.
Census data also shows that growth rate of women in the workplace is slow too, as compared to men. While men in the workforce increased by 2.7 percentage points, from 53.3 percent in 2001 to 56.0 percent in 2011, in case of women, it only increased from 30.8 percent to 31.1 percent (0.3 percentage points). The percentage of workers to the total population rose from 42.4 percent in 2001 to 44.0 percent in 2011.