Líderes Campesinas: Fighting for Women’s Rights in Farm Work

Women farm workers face extra challenges in an already severe work environment. Women often face hiring discrimination, sexual assault, and reproductive problems related to pesticide exposure. They are also burdened with childcare and homemaking in addition to their demanding work in the fields. Maria Carmona of Pasadena explained a typical day in her life as a woman farm worker,

“After working in the fields, you come home exhausted. As a woman, when you get home, you don’t lay down and rest or turn on the television or drink a beer like the men do. You have to keep cleaning, sweeping, washing dishes, and cooking. Sometimes you have to keep on working until late at night. Then, you hardly have time to sleep before you have to wake up in the morning and do it all over again—making lunch for everyone, preparing things for the family, and going back to work. That’s the experience that thousands of farmworker women live through every day (Rothenberg, p.55).”

In California, women make up more than half of the states’ 1.2 million farm workers. Líderes Campesinas (translates as Women Farm Worker Leaders) was founded in 1988 in California’s Coachella valley to specifically address the problems of women farm workers in the state. In the past two decades, their groundwork has expanded to include eight chapters throughout CA. Their model works to empower and train women farm workers to become organizers in their communities. They describe themselves as “an organization for and by campesinas, offer[ing] programs consisting of workshops, presentations, and discussions for and by women and girls based on their needs as working women.”

How they operate:

Each year, Líderes Campesinas trains over 3,000 women and girls. They do this through hosting house parties that use theater and popular education techniques to educate new women about empowerment and the resources that they can access. They also hold training sessions for women and girls who are interested in actively organizing with the group. The group continuously puts on community events/ information sessions to make their resources visible and available to the larger community. Líderes provides legal and social services and advocacy for women who often don’t know these services exist and when they do are often turned away from public services due to rampant anti-immigrant racism. Through their “train-the-trainer type educational” philosophy, Líderes Campesinas is gradually building a network of organizers working to address the pressing needs of farm worker communities in CA.

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