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India: Goa’s Women Professionals want more, and they want it now

This article is written by Sapna Shahani

Lillian D’Costa, 32, left the idyllic village of Saligao in North Goa where she had spent her childhood years, and moved to Bangalore, in neighbouring Karnataka five years ago. “I had reached a point where I wasn’t growing any more and realised I needed a change,” she recalls. “I’m sure that Goa offers a better quality of life than many other states, but that’s if you’re economically well-placed. If you’re young and need opportunities for growth, Goa does not work.”

Ashwina Souza, 23, left her family in the Southern Goan town of Vasco last year to pursue a Ph.D in Industrial Psychology in Mumbai. “My seniors told me that the faculty here in Goa was not as good as in Mumbai. Besides, in a place like Mumbai, there are so many industries and they need people like us. Among my circle of friends, many have left Goa – perhaps six or eight out of 10.”

Two voices of young women professionals from a state that has recorded the highest per capita income among all Indian states in a 2009-10, according to the central statistical office. However, a study by the Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Employment also reveals that Goa has the highest unemployment rate in the country. What’s worse, according to another study conducted by Goa’s Ministry of Labour in 2009, only one-fourth of those employed in the state are women.

These figures imply that not only is Goa’s wealth not distributed equally across all sections of society, its working women are clearly marginal players in the state’s economy. Unless efforts are made to reverse this trend, Goa stands to lose young talent, with many youngsters like Lillian and Ashwina being forced to leave home for educational and employment opportunities in other states. Indeed, they are left with little choice, given the rising inflation and high cost of living in Goa.

Perhaps in response to the impending crisis, Goa recently became the first state in India to announce a dole for jobless youth. But such political gestures are merely symbolic. There still isn’t much public discussion about creating jobs for the state’s 80,000 people registered with the Employment Exchange. The Goa Chamber of Commerce carries a telling piece of information on its website: “Roughly about 15,000 graduates come out of Goan colleges every year. The government on its own will not be in a position to provide employment to these youth…”

There is widespread consensus in Goa that higher education in the state does not prepare graduates for real jobs. While the state has focused on primary education – ranking 11th among all Indian states in terms of performance – higher education appears to have stagnated. Public perception is that it is best to earn one’s degree or post-graduate qualification outside the state if one can afford to do so.

Says Aldina Gomes, a lecturer at Carmel College for Women in Nuvem, “As a professor, I’m a little against how academics is handled here. Everyone has to study humanities but they don’t really have a connection to the subject. They won’t pursue humanities as a career but will end up doing something completely different… There is a clear lack of vocational guidance for students as well as career opportunities. There should be many more entrance exams, job-specific courses and certificates that can get you jobs.”

Of course, women students are full of expectations. Take Zaheera Vaz, 20, who is about to start her Master’s degree course in Political Science at Goa University. She is keen to have extra-curricular activities that could help her develop her analytical skills. Nashoma De Jesus, 22, who is currently finishing her Master’s degree in International Studies at Goa University, would like more field experience. “The education system is too theoretical. We need more exposure while we’re studying. Internships should be mandatory,” she argues.

But this would require more investment in higher education, as Sabina Martins, a prominent women’s rights activist and school teacher with a Ph.D in chemistry, points out. “I did my research in carbon, which can be prepared from coconut shells. I thought since Goa has so many coconut shells and carbon is in high demand, being used for water purification and in so many other applications, it should be easy to make carbon this way. I went to see the only plant that does this in Goa and it was run by someone from outside the state. Planning here is devoid of research,” she says.

Those who don’t leave the state and are lucky enough to find jobs after they graduate, get measly salaries, sometimes as low as Rs 4,000 (US41=Rs 44) a month. Aglin Barretto, 23, has a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology and works in two schools as a counsellor. Her salary? Just Rs 5,000 per month.

Both opportunities and salaries are lower in Goa than elsewhere and that is a source of angst for young women like Skitter Faia, 32, who works in a PR firm in state capital Panaji. “I hear a lot of people talking about job security and I think that means a government job where you can work or not work and still take a salary home,” observes Skitter. Others feel that appreciation and promotions don’t easily come the way of women employees. Clara Rodrigues, 24, a journalist based in Saligao, rues the fact that the glass ceiling obstructs many ambitions women may harbour, “We need opportunities to grow vertically in the organisation.”

But this does not mean that women have stopped dreaming of personal growth and freedom. Interestingly, one of the reasons why many young women here prefer to migrate out of the state is to free themselves from the diktat of conservative families and the norms that mark rural life. D’Costa says, “As a single woman living outside the state, you don’t have to rush home. Or face judgmental people in the village who are always assessing you. Or hear that your phone isn’t accessible. These are constraints I experience every time I return to Goa.”

Despite the stereotypes fostered by the coastal tourist belt, life in Goa’s hinterland is fairly restrictive for young women and the general outlook is narrow. Ashwina shares a personal anecdote, “Once in college, a teacher asked us why we wanted to go to college. Students gave all sorts of answers. Some argued that it was their ticket to leave home; others said it was their certificate for marriage; still others just wanted to ‘pass time’, while a few talked of how it was the best way to make friends. Only three of us – out of a class of 60 – said they were in college to pursue a career.”

She and others like her want the state to be more pro-active about broadening professional vistas. Not only would this bring economic benefits to the state, it would mean more women in the workplace, they argue. For instance, they point out, that Goa – with its educated population – is eminently suited to emerge as an IT hub, yet little is being done to achieve this.

Says D’Costa, “The government wants to invite only ‘clean’ industries to the state. With its good roads, broadband connectively and relatively cheaper land, it could easily attract the IT industry. IT companies are moving out of Bangalore to places like Chennai and Vellore, but why aren’t they coming to Goa? Bangalore was once known as a retiree’s city, but now it has reinvented itself as a world city. Why can’t Goa make the same transition?”

If Goa has to keep pace with the hopes and expectations of women like D’Costa, it would need to do much more to expand employment opportunities for young professionals.

Published in Deccan Herald, Bangalore edition, 30th April 2011

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/157633/looking-growth-go-some-place.html

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