Women on Night Shift: Safety and Security Concerns

Last week, this blog tackled the health hazards women working on the night shift face. This time, we’re going to take a look at another facet of working on the nocturnal shift: the safety and security concerns that women workers deal with during ungodly hours.

Gone are the days of the male workforce dominating the nightscape. The country’s changing economic landscape has seen a rise in the number of women working at night. Most companies who have night workers in their employ happen to offer handsome compensation packages compared to those proffered by industries that only operate during the day.

Because of this, most women opt to leave the safe confines of their homes at night to work. Mothers need to put food on the table. Sisters have siblings to send to school. Wives aim to help their husbands save up for the future. Daughters wish to help their families live a more comfortable life. Others pine for the finer things. The reasons are varied, the motivations are plentiful.

And so are the risks they have to contend with.

The safety of women in night shifts is a big security concern. While female workers might cringe at being labeled as the ‘weaker sex’, there is no denying that they are indeed vulnerable.

Betina Castro, 32, is a mother of three who decided to take on a call center job in 2010 after she gave birth to her third child. “It was hard at first because my husband was against it. He thought it was dangerous. But we needed to augment our income, we have a growing family, sacrifices had to be made,” she shared.

In February of this year, Betina, who works in Makati, had a horrible experience on her way home from the graveyard shift. She recounted, “I was walking along Ayala Avenue, waiting for a cab when a man approached me, asking for a light. I entertained his request because I’m a smoker and he looked familiar. I thought he was also a call center agent so I felt compelled to be nice. As I searched for the lighter in my bag, he seized the opportunity; he hugged me tightly that I couldn’t breathe. Then he asked for my phone and my wallet. I gave them up but he didn’t release me. We walked far ahead until we reached a dark portion of Buendia Avenue. When he saw that there were no other people in sight, he let me go. I was so scared. I couldn’t recall how I got home.”

Betina said she didn’t even bother to report the incident because she couldn’t find the time to do so. “Because of our work schedule, we need to catch up on sleep during the day, so I decided that it would be too much of a hassle to go to the police and report the crime. I just charged it to experience. I worked doubly hard to compensate for what I lost,” she said.

When I heard her reason for not coming forward and telling her tale to the police, I felt disappointed. While I completely understand where she’s coming from, I had wished that she had taken the time to report what happened to the authorities. How can crimes be curtailed if perpetrators are allowed to go scot-free to spot their next victim?

And of course, I had to ask her if there were cops patrolling the vicinity during that time. She answered in the negative.

When the prohibition on women from working on night shifts was lifted in 2011, the government has beefed up police presence during nighttime. Still, most members of the nocturnal workforce believe that they are not being looked after.

“Cops? Where are they? I don’t see them around when I’m working from 6 p.m. till 2 a.m. –maybe they’re sleeping on the job, when their duty is to stay up and guard us against criminals,” lamented Mark, a BPO employee in Ortigas.

Perhaps, the best way to address this complaint is to have more policemen patrol known night-crime hotspots, including business districts that are lined with BPO, IT, and call center companies; media houses, and hospitals as well.

Meanwhile, an old friend, Kami, was a writer for a major network’s early morning program back in 2009. She also had her fair share of horrible experiences during her nocturnal stint. Twice, she was held-up inside the cab. The first time, she failed to lock the cab doors and a man forcefully joined her in the passenger seat. She and the driver were held-up at gunpoint. The second time, the driver robbed her of her gadgets and money.

“Those incidents happened three weeks apart. I was shaken, made me rethink my options, I started asking myself if the compensation I was getting then was enough to risk my life for,” she recalled.

Kami opined that if there had been police visibility in the area, or if the media outfit she was working for then had provided service vehicles for their night-shift personnel, then no such crimes would have happened.

Companies, I understand, are now taking steps to ensure the safety and security of their employees. Major BPO companies in Makati and Alabang have invested in state-of the-art surveillance cameras in the hope of deterring crimes in their immediate vicinity. And since traveling at night is one of the risks women on the night shift have to take, most companies now provide service vehicles for their personnel, both male and female. Sleeping quarters are also being provided for those who prefer to stay the night over.

But are these measures enough to ensure that women are safe and secure in their workplace and out of it, when they are working on night shifts?

Me thinks, women on the night shift must realize the burden of protecting them does not solely fall on the shoulders of the government and the companies they work for.  They also need to do their share in order to ascertain their security and safety.

I’m no security expert but as a woman, I deem these simple steps can help prevent crimes from happening to you.

One, if you’re taking public transport, have a male friend or colleague who shares the same shift as you as a travel buddy. Or, better ask your boyfriend or your husband to drive and pick you up from work. It doesn’t take a genius to know that criminals are less likely to victimize a woman with a male companion.

Two, don’t call attention to yourself by dressing a little too revealing. Don’t roll your eyes, but eve-teasing and rape often happen at night. You surely don’t want to attract the wrong guys, right? So dress appropriately and leave the bling-bling at home. Who needs to dazzle at three in the morning anyway?

Three, have your mobile phone in handy – but please don’t brandish it. If you get in a cab, text the vehicle’s license plate to your loved ones. Or, do as I do. I call someone and within earshot of the driver, I give the details. If your cab driver has ill intentions, that would at least put him at bay.

Four, lock the cab doors or your car doors, if you’re driving. No explanation needed. If you’re taking the bus, keep your valuables close to your body. Hug your bag tightly.

Five, arm yourself with something that can protect you should an assailant attack. Yeah, pepper spray would be a good idea, stun guns, too. And so are pointed objects like keys, ballpens, and the like.

Six, on your way home, avoid areas that are dark and deserted. Stay on a familiar, well-lit path. Criminals hide under the cloak of darkness. But you know that already, don’t you?

And seven – the most important thing of all— stay vigilant when you’re most vulnerable. Fight the urge for forty winks. Keep your eyes peeled, your ears open. Be aware of what’s happening around you.

The dangers that women face when they work on the night shift are far more extensive than the perils they deal with at daytime, but the level of vigilance and preparedness required to protect ourselves is the same.