The Hidden Faces of Farmworker Women

AFOP Report Documents Sexual Abuse and Health Issues Plaguing Women in the Fields

April 17, 2013 Washington, D.C.—Today, in the midst of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) released a report on the state of farmworker women’s health in the United States, detailing the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence against women working in the fields. The report, “The Hidden Faces of Farmworker Women,” authored by AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs, is the second volume of The Fields, a publication series centered on farmworker health and safety issues.

“Farmwoker women ‘have it all,’ but not in the good kind of way,” says Levy Schroeder, director of Health & Safety Programs at AFOP. “They work in one of the most dangerous and lowest paid jobs—earning even less than their poorly paid male colleagues. They are also responsible for the care of their families and households, often rising first to prepare breakfasts and lunches, followed by 10- to 12-hour days in the field, and then dinner preparation, laundry, and seeing to any other needs of their families.”

The report cites the many studies documenting the dangerous nature of farm work. Those studies link agricultural work and pesticide exposure to higher occurrences of certain types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, an increased level of stress and depression, among other diseases and maladies. “The Hidden Faces of Farmworker Women” combines that data with information AFOP staff gathered during focus groups and interviews with farmworker women from around the country to create a clear, comprehensive picture of the problems afflicting farmworker women.

Staff found that scant financial resources, immigration status, language and cultural barriers, and isolation create significant barriers to accessing health care. Interviews with female workers indicate that the unbalanced power dynamic in the fields also contributes to the extraordinarily high incidence of sexual assault. Those factors often result in farmworker women not seeking medical screening or care until a problem has progressed to an advanced or critical stage.

The report also includes a case study documenting the serious consequences that can result from daily exposure to pesticides. Staff spoke with several women from Kettleman City, California, documenting the stories of birth defects, learning disabilities, and illnesses plaguing the small, low-income, agricultural community.

“In general, farmworkers in the United States suffer poor and even abusive conditions to harvest the many fruits and vegetables Americans eat every day,” Schroder states. “The women within this group suffer disproportionately as a result of their gender. We need to fix that.”

The report concludes with ideas to improve farmworkers’ lives provided by the women who were interviewed. AFOP also presents several recommendations on how to eliminate health disparities and improve the health of farmworker women and their families.

At the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), a national federation of non-profit and public agencies that provide job training and services for America’s farmworkers, the Health & Safety Programs division develops trainings and coordinates health promotion activities to protect farmworkers from pesticide poisoning, heat-related illness, and other life-threatening occupational hazards. Our national network of trainers reaches thousands of farmworkers each year in 26 states and Puerto Rico. For additional comment or interview from an AFOP expert, please contact Ayrianne Parks at (202) 828-6006 x140 or Parks@AFOP.org.

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