Sabina Martins knew she had finally won her family’s approval of her activism work when her mother came home one day and proudly related that she finally got her passport after having been given a run-around by officials for days. The words that intimidated them into action were, “Do you know who I am? I am Sabina Martins’ mother.”
Her family was hesitant to accept her work initially because it was frequently not accepted upon by society.
Sabina Martins founded the Bailancho Saad (Women’s Wake Up Call) 25 years ago. It is a non-funded volunteer organization. Beginning at age 15 in the Progressive Students Union at college, Sabina’s resolve only got stronger with instances of being knocked unconscious by a police baton or going on a hunger strike or facing preventive arrests. Although skeptical at first, Sabina’s family stood by her during these difficult times, making it easier for her to continue the good fight.
“We fought for a women’s police station and got it after 10 years. We fought for the women’s commission and got it. Today, if gender is on the agenda in Goa, Bailancho Saad has a significant role to play in that process,” says Sabina.
But more than the tangible institutions created, Sabina feels that her greatest achievement has been to help build the sense of security women feel in Goa because of the various awareness-building activities Bailancho Saad has carried out.
“An 80-year-old lady once called me up and said, ‘Today, I did Bailancho Saad.’ I asked her what she meant and she said she protested outside the house of those who wanted to dispossess her of her own home and got her key back. To me, that is empowerment,” she says.
Sabina explains that all their work began with women in distress approaching them for help. One example was a woman who needed help requesting the court to grant her a sewing machine from her former marital home.
“That’s when the conversation began. We take on individual cases. There are issues like violence, bigamy, the impact of development, alcoholism, casinos, trafficking, sexual harassment at the workplace, single women, HIV positive women, orphans,” says Sabina.
In 2006, although Sabina was busy enough with Bailancho Saad, earning her living as a school teacher and pursuing a PhD in chemistry, she felt compelled to join others voicing their objections to a potentially disastrous Regional Plan for the state. Public resentment had grown as corrupt government officials were allegedly taking bribes from wealthy builders to convert protected agricultural land into commercial plots where they could build vacation homes for the urban rich.
Having recently started my own journey highlighting women’s rights issues in India, I ask Sabina what other women activists can learn from her experience. She cautions that it’s a long road ahead because although women feel empowered in their own spaces, gender sensitivity is still not there even in mixed-gender progressive circles.
Dr. Sabina Martins has come a long way when she had to resist family and social disapproval of her work. Besides teaching chemistry, her additional LLB degree comes in handy as she is a panel member of many Lok Adalats (adjunct courts where disputes can get settled faster). She has also been part of the State Commission for Women for two terms and is now the sole convener of the GBA. Her husband of 17 years, Subhas Naik Jorge, is also an activist for workers’ rights and is very supportive of Sabina’s work.
But with all the support, Sabina also knows that the real challenge is juggling priorities and balancing work and personal time. Fortunately, she has the energy to carry on.
(This article is part of a writing assignment for WorldPulse.com’s Voices of Our Future program.)