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by Sarah Baker

March 25-March 31 is National Farmworker Awareness Week.  National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW) is a week of action for students and community members to raise awareness about farmworker issues on our campuses and in our communities. 

85% of our fruits and vegetables are harvested by hand, but the farmworkers that harvest our produce remain largely invisible.  Farmworkers are one of the most exploited and marginalized group of workers in the US.  They are exempted from many of the US federal and state labor laws that protect workers.  Issues that farmworkers face include low pay, job insecurity, health and safety hazards such as pesticide poisoning, inadequate housing, child labor, social isolation, food insecurity, and barriers to accessing healthcare.   Many farmworkers come on H-2A guestworker visas or are undocumented and therefore fear retaliation or deportation for speaking out against these conditions.

When we think about farmworkers, we usually imagine them to be men. While farmworkers are mainly young men, women make up 22% of the agricultural workforce in the U.S.  Farmworker women endure all the issues that farmworker men face, as well as issues that are unique or amplified because they are women.  Female farmworkers are frequently even more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and marginalization than farmworker men.  Farmworker women face issues such as hiring and pay discrimination, sexual harassment and assault, and violation of reproductive rights.

Farmworker women face hiring and pay discrimination  within our agricultural system.  H-2A guestworker visas are generally not given to women, so more farmworker women must come into the US as undocumented to work, which creates conditions that are ripe for exploitation and marginalization.  Also, farmworker women are under greater pressure under the piece-rate system of pay and often need to work longer hours in order to earn the same income as a man.  For example, the average personal income of farmworker women is $11,250, compared to $16,250 farmworker men.  Women also face discrimination in accessing more desirable jobs, such as machinery operation or pesticide appliers, or being promoted to supervisory positions which are better paid.

Sexual harassment is a major and prevalent issue that farmworker women face.  In a survey of farmworker women in California, 90% of women identified sexual harassment as a major problem.  Sexual harassment of farmworker women can range from inappropriate touching and comments to rape.  Many women are forced to have sex with supervisors to keep their jobs or put up with constant propositions for sex by supervisors.  Farmworker women may not report instances of sexual harassment and abuse for fear of losing their jobs or being deported, especially when they have families and children depending on them.

Additionally, farmworker women face violation of their reproductive rights.  Women in the fields are exposed to toxic pesticides, of which pregnant women (and their fetuses) are particularly vulnerable to.  Exposure to pesticides is linked to infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects.  For example, a child, Carlitos Candelario, was born in 2004 without arms and legs after his mother was heavily exposed to pesticides while pregnant and working in tomato fields in Florida.  Farmworkers face barriers to health care and for farmworker women this means barriers to accessing prenatal care while pregnant and also other reproductive care, such as access to birth control.

These are just some of the issues that farmworker women face.  Farmworkers play a vital role in harvesting our food, but are the most exploited and marginalized group of workers in the U.S.  and farmworker women are even more vulnerable than farmworker men.  These hardworking women are part of the backbone of the U.S. agricultural system while also holding their families and communities together.   When working to advocate for and improve conditions with farmworkers, we must not forget about the issues that farmworker women face.

To take action and get involved:

Come out to an event being hosted on UNC’s campus as part of National Farmworker Awareness week!  Events are listed here:

-Join Alianza, the farmworker solidarity group at UNC!  Email and like us on facebook for more info.

-Sign Alianza’s petition asking Board of Governor David Powers to meet with UNC students to discuss the abuse of farmworkers that is occurring in North Carolina!

-Visit to learn about Student Action with Farmworkers, get involved in one of their programs, learn more about farmworkers, and hear their stories.

Sarah is a member of FSU, a member of Alianza, and a student organizer with Student Action with Farmworkers.  At UNC, she is currently working on the Reynolds Campaign with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to bring justice to tobacco farmworkers in North Carolina. 



Posted by Sarah-Kathryn Bryan

Let’s say I started my period today. There are no tampons in my dorm; I haven’t bought a pad in ages. Having lived, until very recently, with an awareness of only two ways to stem my monthly flow, I am surprised to find myself prepared despite my padless panties. Let’s step outside the menstrual product dichotomy. Today there are several products often neglected both by public schools’ already lacking sex ed classes and the ‘Feminine Hygiene’ aisles.

One option is the cup. Marketed at the Keeper, Diva Cup, Moon Cup et al. names, they fit inside the vagina over the cervix. Your humble blogger has no personal experience with cups, but has heard almost universally positive reviews of the product: they don’t spill; they’re easy to sanitize; they completely change approximately five of every twenty-eight days of your life. Critics often point out how difficult to adjust and remove they are. Touché. Like all TRULY REVOLUTIONARY products, cups require significant effort to become accustomed to. I recommend easing the transition by using disposable cups first: they bend more easily, and are a less impactful financial commitment for those who want to try several different menstrual products.

Many Women’s Studies 101 students have seen the famous poster from 1976 endorsing sea sponges, or have heard its slogan “Less profit from women’s blood!” As a fan of composting, I find the poster’s recommendation to feed plants on menstrual flow extremely appealing. The fact that sponges are cheap and exceptionally durable when wet are mere perks in comparison. Facts about the environmental impact of harvesting sea sponges are not forthcoming, but some may have concerns about using animal products. I personally find sea sponges an environmentally responsible option: sponges usually grow faster than trees and break down faster than plastic.

My personal favorite is Gladrags, or Lunapads, or products that take the basic form of a large, comfortable, patterned, reusable cloth pad. Mine has polka-dots. They are highly absorbent, and last for approximately five years. There are tutorials on how to make your own online, but reusable pad products are becoming more widely available in stores, online and at product-selling parties.

Wear your alternative products with pride. If you use one not featured here, write a blog about it, spread the news via word of mouth, or by making a gift of one to a friend. How better to bond with someone you’ve synched with?

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