The recent press report in Herald of 24/1/06, which says that women voters have numerically surpassed their male counterparts by 2.01 per cent, makes interesting reading, for its been too long that women and their issues have been ignored if not sideline by all the major political parties of the state. Assembly elections are just round the corner this is an opportunity on a platter for the women of Goa, political parties that have never included women’s issues in their manifesto are going to have to make a drastic change of strategy to woo a section of the population too long taken for granted.

I think in a place like Goa women have a great potential to voice their opinion and be heard precisely because we have a very educated and conscious population of women who have for too long felt repressed and used, to pay only lip service too.

From my experience of having spent seven years working in a civil society organisation and now, from a distance, the capital of the country offers me, I think that some of the issues women should be addressing to their advantage is, electoral representation. Every election, women party workers slog for their male representative and get little in return. Political parties in dealing with infighting and bickering have sidelined women candidates, as in the recent case of the Cumburjua constituency; Nirmala Sawant was sacrificed for the “greater corrupt good”. Its time the women of Goa assert themselves politically in no uncertain terms. 33% representation and more, but definitely not any less, and this is hardly an unfair demand, with a 2.01 per cent higher number of voters, they obviously need more governmental attention.

There are also numerous women’s issues that have been ignored by the government for years together. Be it water shortage, electricity problems or those of public transport, it is women as consumers who suffer the problem the most, it only adds to their already stressed lifes. Even while the government improves infrastructure to meet industrial needs, women continue to wake up at all odd hours of the night to fill water, or dash to the neighbours well, find their washing machine or grinder does not work in the evening due to low voltage or experience pangs of anxiety if they’ve stuck at work after 6 o’clock for the public transport stops soon after.

There are supposedly 9,000 legal bars and another 9,000 illegal bars in the state. Even while men drink themselves to death (and in this case you’ll have to consider all those thousands of Indian Tourist too) it is the women and the family that suffers the repercussions. The detoxification centres are pathetic 10 bed Centres, one each in Mapusa for North Goa and one in Margao for South Goa, there is no word called rehabilitation in the Health Service dictionary, shocking isn’t it. With the stress of work and family, a growing number of women are also taking up to alcohol. There is no understanding or estimate yet of the size of neither the problem, nor a policy on how to deal with it. We need women representative who will recognise the pain and trauma that alcoholism has brought to Goa, her women and her families and come up with a method to dealt with it. Budgetary allocations for policy formulation and infrastructure for detoxification and rehabilitation centres is the need of the hour.

Thousands of Goan girls and women are getting into the job market each year. Thousands of them are already in. They work under horrendous conditions, not just low wages but poor work environments too. These range from damaging levels of noise to improper safety equipment, to handling hazardous material, to injuries on the work site. The effect on their health as a result of being subjected to such conditions is not looked into. The Labour dept. gets the least attention, but I believe, from our brief experience with it, is that it is one of the most corrupt depts. This dept. has been ignored by the press of Goa, but it cannot and should not be ignored by the women of Goa. It’s the Dept., through which the women in the State get their lives and often futures squeezed for a pittance. Goa desperately needs a labour policy for women, especially one that seeks to keep a gender balance in the workplace, and where the sexual harassment at the workplace laws are not flouted. A larger number of women representatives in the legislative assembly will help the women of Goa leverage a better work environment for themselves.

Another issue that has gone largely ignored is health. The country over is discussing and debating on the recently published study done by the St. Michael’s Hospital in the University of Toronto and the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and research Chandigarh about the 10 million girl child’s lost through female feticide. The census report for Goa had indicated a gender imbalance. At a talk I had attended a while back, the Superintendent of Asilo Hospital and the North Goa authority for the Pre-Natal? Diagnostic Technique Act had mentioned how stringent the law was, but had also pointed out ways and means by which both doctors and those interested in terminating a female foetus could get around it. Goa was yet to register a single case of female feticide, till then the gender imbalance goes unaddressed.

Women are also known to be the slowest to seek medical attention. Although quite a few of my fellow Goenkars would argue that poverty is non-existent in Goa, I would vociferously argue that it does. Those economically poor women would have sough medical attention sooner (and endangered their lives less) if the PHC in their village was functional and if the district hospitals and GMC provided the poor free medical facilities and medicines. We need a health policy that is bias towards the poor more so towards poor women. We need our lower rung medical institutions to be functional so that the private doctors are not the only ones getting rich.

Mental health is yet another problem that has got insufficient public or government attention. Thousands of women are mentally breaking down under the stress of work, family- an alcoholic husband, harassing inlaws, family disputesetc- and even though thousands of patients find their way to the Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour, the hospital, I have come to understand is understaffed. I know of a doctor there who refers her patients to a meditation technique, surprisingly all of them were young people anywhere between 18 and 25 years of age. Why doesn’t the IPHB have a rehabilitation wing that teaches yoga, other forms of meditation etc to deal with mental stress, why doesn’t it widen its scope to include psychologist and more counselling services? Sadly, Goa lacks a mental health policy too. While all the budgetary allocation is going to putting up a super speciality wing and buying expensive machinery, women totter from day to day, any surprises why suicides in the state are on an upward swing.

Another issue of growing concern and grave consequences to women is safety. The crime graph against women is growing. Problems like domestic violence when reported to the police are dealt with callously if not ignored. There have been increasing incidents of rape on minors. The image of Goa is gradually changing from one that is safe for women to one that is crime riddled. I some how don’t believe that this is caused due to insufficient laws, but rather due to political interference and incompetence of the police. This is amply demonstrated when one takes a look at the statistics, which show not just a high rate of pending cases but also from the shoddy FIRs and other documentation done by the police that aids the accused to go acquitted! We need more that the present single women’s police station in the state, which women can approach with confidence and be assured of sensitivity.

How else can I end this exhortation, other than quoting the over quoted quote, “women of Goa unite, you have nothing to loose but your chains”

The writer has been involved with an activist, voluntary initiative called the Goa Desc Resource Centre in Goa for seven years before she moved to Delhi and is presently working as a Research Assistant with Lokniti, a programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Besides writing, Lillian D'Costa is also involved in writing poetry on a range of social issues like women, environment, children and human rights. The writer can be contacted online at her e-mail:

Permision to upload this article granted by the writer on January 30 2006.