The Green Motel

Female farmworkers fight back

| September 29, 2005

Grueling work, little pay, exposure to pesticides -- these are some of the hostile conditions that confront farm laborers in America. For women who toil in the fields and orchards, there's the added worry of sexual harassment and assault. In recent years, a movement to end such abuse has gained momentum through successful legal battling and activist organizing. But as Rebecca Clarren reports in Ms. Magazine, the problem remains widespread.

In the US, there are about 500,000 female farmworkers, of whom the overwhelming majority are undocumented Latina immigrants who don't speak English, don't belong to unions, and don't have many other employment options. For such reasons, women fieldworkers hesitate to report sexually abusive bosses for fear of losing their jobs, or worse, being deported. It's been estimated that thousands of women may have been victimized.

L?deres Campesinas, a female farmworker support group, strives to give these women alternatives to silence. Organizers educate women about their legal rights concerning sexual harassment. Often there's a struggle to get women to talk about sexual issues due to stigmas in traditional Latino cultures. Fighting the same battle, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is exercising its authority to file suits against workplaces where sexual harassment persists. The EEOC has settled nine lawsuits, and in December, it won a groundbreaking case against the Fresno County-based agribusiness giant Harris Farms in which the plaintiff was awarded nearly $1 million.
-- Archie Ingersoll

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