The SafeGoa Project: Working towards
Women’s Safety in Goa
Iris C F Gomes
In 2014, as former president Barack Obama launched a task force to prevent sexual violence against women in colleges in the USA, he said, ‘You can judge a nation and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.’ And how true this statement rings as we find our nation, India, among the top five countries in the world deemed unsafe for women as per a Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll report. Culturally regressive behaviour and the gender divide has tainted us with atrocities in the multitude committed against women. Indian women on their part tend to cower in the face of rape, molestation, sexual harassment and other sexually charged crimes. This is an automatic reaction to the ingrained fear of social stigma. Yes, there is a need to change the mindset of society, but it can take a while before anything happens in that direction.
Nevertheless, there are other infrastructural changes we can make in our villages, towns and cities as an immediate measure to safeguard our women. The Bachchao Project is the combined effort of certain individuals who have focused their energy and intellect on creating technological tools to prevent gender violence and step up the safety of women. The SafeGoa Project, which is an offshoot of the Bachchao Project, was designed to analyse data collected on sexual harassment in Goa, spread awareness about sexual violence and encourage reporting of sexual crimes with the aid of printed open maps.
Chinmayi S K, the founder of the Bachchao Project spoke on ‘Women Safety and Goan Cities’ based on data gathered from the cities of Panjim and Ponda. The project became all the more essential with the growing incidence of street harassment in the state, even experienced by the some of the members of the SafeGoa Project. She confirms that there are very few official and unofficial (by NGOs) records of street harassment as compared to the data acquired through their maps. Chinmayi says, ‘Why the focus on street harassment in Goa? Street harassment in Goa is not spoken of but very visible.’ Tourists and natives are victims alike. So also, the perpetrators could be people from other states as well as Goans. Harassment becomes more rampant as you draw closer to the beach belt and tourist areas but hardly anything is recorded. To understand this unwillingness to report street harassment and whether there is really a serious issue of street harassment, the SafeGoa team began their study in February 2016.
Cities were chosen for the study because of the melting pot of individuals of various backgrounds that they represent, since people move to cities for jobs. The infrastructure, or lack of thereof, was noted in its contribution to street harassment. This could be extended to smaller towns later, although problems tend to differ in smaller towns and villages compared with cities. ‘In order to have a structured study we decided to stick to Panjim and Ponda,’ says Chinmayi.
A city is seen as a place for equal opportunities irrespective of gender, caste, religion or class. ‘It is almost an idea of a Utopian place,’ says Chinmayi. This is, however, not the reality of the situation.
Means of transport was an important issue with women who use the bus on a daily basis. The trickling down of buses plying within and from the cities, especially Panjim, after 7.30-8pm poses a serious problem. Markets shutting down after 8/8.30 makes for deserted spots that can prove dangerous for women to go to.
‘When I have asked women in Goa whether Goa is safe, the answer is always yes. But is it true?’ asks Chinmayi. For five months, from March 2016, the SafeGoa Project put up maps of Panjim and Ponda in publically accessible places in the respective cities. They asked people to mark areas on the maps with red or yellow, with red representing having been harassed and yellow representing having witnessed harassment. They received 300 reports of facing and witnessing harassment despite not having created too much publicity about the work they were doing (The Ponda map shows a density representation of how many reports were made while the Panjim map has the red and yellow markings). The reporters of the harassment were assured anonymity.
In Panjim, every place, be it Miramar, Taleigao, etc, had one or the other representation, that is first-hand experience or witnessing harassment. It was a similar case in Ponda. Maximum number of reports were from around the Panjim bus stand, Patto, and the market area. There was one rape case that was reported as well.
Influencing infrastructure to favour the prevention of crimes against women and establishing gender equality, is essential. This would mean building pavements, putting up streetlights in places other than the main city hotspots, having police patrolling in different parts of the city, providing enough toilets for women, etc. Chinmayi says, ‘What we want to do from here is look at all of this with a nuanced lens, look at the harassment reports and also work with other organisations on continuing recording harassment, and to look at infrastructural needs and plan for necessary changes.’ Police sensitivity is an urgent concern that needs to be addressed if women are to be convinced they can securely make their reports. This gender inequality will disappear and crimes against women will reduce happen only when women come out in public spaces with infrastructure and society on their side, proving a safe haven for them.