Help ensure dignity and respect for farmworker women!

Today, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers launched a new campaign: “Earlier this year, the Fair Food Program won the support of Catapult, a pioneering crowdfunding platform that works with groups around the globe to advance the rights of women and girls.  And today, we have the great pleasure of announcing the launch of the Catapult online campaign, “Ensure dignity and respect for farmworkers” — an effort to raise $25,000 in 150 days to help pay for a new auditor for the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), the Fair Food Program’s indispensable third-party monitoring body.  Now you can help support the FFSC’s crucial, day-to-day human rights work in the fields by checking out the online fundraising campaign here.”

This is a great campaign, a real opportunity to take the struggle for farmworker women’s dignity and respect, and all women workers’ dignity and respect, to a new level.

Across the United States farmworker women struggle and organize to end sexual violence in the fields. Currently over a half million women work in the agricultural sector, the vast majority of whom are undocumented Latinas. Last year, Rape in the Fields highlighted women’s struggles in the fields of California, the orchards of Washington State, and the egg and meat processing plants of Iowa. If you’re in the United States, pretty much whatever is on your table is composed of super-exploitation and extreme violence against women.

Farmworker women are saying, No! They’re saying the abuse is not acceptable and, importantly, it’s not inevitable. When Dolores Huerta says, “Sexual harassment is an epidemic in the fields,” she’s not sighing and giving up. She’s saying an epidemic needs a campaign to eradicate and transform it. When Maricruz Ladino, Olivia Tamayo, Angela Mendoza, Cesilia Lua, Danelia Barajas, Magdalena Alvarez look straight into a reporter’s camera or a jury’s eyes, and describe the weariness as well as intensity, they are spreading the word: Now! Now is the time!

Maricruz Ladino says, “The time came when I said, `No more.’ I made a complaint…. It wasn’t about the money because that does not give you back the integrity you lost as a woman, your self-worth as a woman. I was heard. That’s why I think there was justice. But a part of me died, and no one can give that back to me. This type of thing did not only happen to me. It was happening to many, many more women. And if I stay quiet, then it is going to keep happening. That’s why I want to talk about it now, so that everybody can see themselves in me, so that they won’t stay quiet anymore. They must react, not with violence but with the laws that protect them. Documented or undocumented, you have to speak.”

You have to speak, as women like Esther Abarca, Sandra Garcia, Lupe Gonzalo, Silvia Perez, Nely Rodriguez, and hundreds of others have done and are doing. Across the country, women have organized local farmworker women’s groups, have met with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have filed law suits and more. But now is the time. Now is the time to move from local to national, to create permanent structures that will do more than respond to this abuse and that atrocity and this occasion of mass rape.

Representative Luis Gutierrez, of Illinois, says, “I learned a long time ago that when it comes to these situations, believe the women. Believe the women.” Believe the women. Believe the women who say, NOW IS THE TIME!

(Photo Credit: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

Did Mother’s Day end early this year?

Mother’s Day seemed to end early and abruptly this year.

In Australia, under the proposed new national budget, women who have a child, otherwise known as mothers, face paying 30% more on student loans than their male counterparts. No matter that another government policy encourages women to have three children, one for ma, one for pa, and for the nation down the road: “These aren’t choices we force on men. These are penalties we extract from women, based on their gender.”

Speaking of penalties, this week, the Pennsylvania ACLU revealed that in Pennsylvania, pregnant women prisoners are routinely shackled, including during childbirth. Pennsylvania is one of the states that actually has a law, the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act, which prohibits this kind of treatment. That law was passed in 2010. The ACLU has written to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania asking her to `clarify the law.’

Speaking of clarifying the law, Marissa Alexander still can’t catch a break. For having shot once in the air and not endangered anyone, in order to ward off an abusive partner, Marissa Alexander still faces a possible 60 years behind bars. While her lawyers may have all sorts of new evidence, the prosecuting attorney says the evidence isn’t new enough and the judge is worried about the precedent set by having a second Stand Your Ground hearing. Happy Mother’s Day.

But for the women farmworkers of Immokalee, it may just be a Mother’s Day to celebrate. For the fourth year in a row, farmworker mothers, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, stormed the ramparts of Publix, armed to the teeth with hope, a vision of a decent and dignified future for all, a dream of industrial democracy, and a letter, which read:

“May 11, 2014
Mother’s Day

To Publix:

We are farmworker women.  This is the fourth celebration of Mother’s Day in which we are writing to Publix to ask that you join the Fair Food Program.

As mothers, we work in the fields to support our families, especially to help our children through school.

As mothers, we do not make enough to fully support our family.  And the little that we do make is not easy to earn: We work under the sun and rain of Florida.  We do everything so that you can have tomatoes:  we plant, we tie up the plants, we harvest, and then we do it all again the next season.  In spite of all that, it seems that you do not understand and do not want to hear the voice of farmworkers.

Publix profits from the sweat of those of us who work in the fields.  We deserve respect and we deserve a fair wage.

Now is the time to join the Fair Food Program to protect the rights of workers and ensure a fair wage, with the penny per pound that 12 other corporations are already paying.  What are you waiting for, Publix?


The Women’s Group of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers”

After delivering the letter, Lupe Gonzalo reported, “Publix presumes to say that they support families — but in reality, we don’t see this support. And we are not afraid to tell them that what they are saying is not true.  We are not afraid to come and protest in front of their stores.  Because we are speaking the truth, with our heads held high. For all of us, when we speak to our children, we tell them the truth.  And we tell them that Publix has not signed onto the Program because they are afraid.  Even children can see that.  But what does Publix say to its children?  Only lies?  Is that how they are educating their children?  That is not how we prepare our children for the future.”

Others, like Nely Rodriguez, mother of four, agreed. Now is the time!

Thanks to the work of women like Marissa Alexander, Lupe Gonzalo, Nely Rodriguez, maybe Mother’s Day didn’t end early this year, because, for them, the struggle of women continues, and that’s what Mother’s Day is all about.

(Photo Credit: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

You have struck the woman farmer and farm worker …

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa, and the news from government is predictably grim. Women are still suffering, announced Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulama Xingwana, and in particular for `rural women’. This comes a year almost to the day of the Human Rights Watch report, Ripe with Abuse Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries. The report described and documented the face of the abused farm worker in the Western Cape, and, to no one’s great surprise, the face is a woman’s.

A year later, the struggle continues.

For example, Worldwatch Institute issued a report this week that finds that investment in women farmers, globally, is too low. Remember, women produce half of the agricultural output in South Asia and 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. Further, women farmers produce more than half of all food and comprise 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force. `Forgetting’ women endangers food security as it threatens food sovereignty. Beyond that, and perhaps more to the point, excluding women farmers and farm workers imperils democracy, locally, nationally, regionally, globally. Remember that the next time you bite into a piece of fruit, wherever you are.

While the situation is grim, the news is not all bad. In the United States, undergraduate women enrolled in agriculture programs outnumber undergraduate men by more than 2,900 students. That’s out of a sum of around 50,000 students. This trend corresponds with the increase in women farm operators.

In Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, the Philippines, Nepal, and beyond and between, women farmers, women farm workers, rural women activists and organizers, ordinary rural women, are breaking new ground … literally. They are moving from a field not quite her own to a field of her own. And that’s good news … for food security, for food sovereignty, for democracy. The struggle continues.


(Photo Credit: Phuong Tran/IRIN)

Women farmworkers haunt South Africa’s fruit and wine industries

Farm work is hard work, and farm workers around the world suffer abuse and exploitation that often seems to marry predation to sadism. A most recent, and vivid, picture of this emerges in this week’s Human Rights Watch report, Ripe with Abuse Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries. The report focuses on the fruit and wine industries of the “wealthy and fertile” Western Cape, where the greatest number of farmworkers, around 121,000, live. The report documents the active abuse, and worse, of farm owners and farm managers, and the often active failure of the State to live up to its Constitutional obligations to protect workers, families, citizens, people, women.

In South Africa, the report was picked up by the Mail & Guardian, the Sowetan, the City Press, The Times, The Cape Times, to name a few. Internationally, the BBC, the Guardian, and the Telegraph commented. In a number of reports, women farm workers or farm dwellers appeared.

For example, farmworker Sinah B struggled against forced eviction. Her employers cut off her electricity and running water, in the middle of winter, while farm security guards harassed and persecuted Sinah B and her two children morning, noon, and night.

Johanna Flippies and her family have been forcibly evicted from three farms in the last ten years, because her husband is a union shop steward. For Flippies, life on the farm is hell, life off the farm is … hell.

For workers on Western Cape farms, life is dismal, misery.

The news coverage of the Human Rights Watch report universally avoided the gender of misery. In the farmlands of the Western Cape, hell and misery have a face, and it is a woman’s face.

Farmworkers are divided into two large categories, permanent and casual or seasonal. Permanent farmworkers are in the main men. Women are seasonal. Even if they work year round. On the same farm. For the same employer. For years. Non-permanent farmworkers are the most abused, the most exploited, the most vulnerable, the most precarious, the under assault. They have fewer State-sponsored protections, for what they’re worth. Very few are organized in unions. As women, they’re paid less than men farmworkers, who are themselves paid, by law, less than domestic workers. Occupational health violations, such as lack of protection around pesticides, targets women. For women living on the farms, workplace sexual violence flows into domestic violence.

Human Rights Watch, in its report, explicated the gender dynamics of farmworker abuse and exploitation. Why have the news outlets avoided the women? Farmworkers around the world suffer abuse and exploitation. In the Western Cape of South Africa, farmworkers generally have it hard. But women farmworkers are the heart and soul, and target, of abuse and exploitation. Women farmworkers haunt South Africa’s wine and fruit industries … and silence about women farmworkers haunts the news.


(Photo Credit: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch)