Although we might have an image of farmworkers as sun-beaten men, nearly one-third (28%) of farmworkers are women. In addition to the well-known dangers of this farm work—pesticides, heat, injuries from machinery—women farmworkers face particular challenges including sexual harassment, assault, and violations of their reproductive rights, Most American farmworkers are Latinos, and Latino women may have particular stresses and mental health concerns.
Researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine compared the mental health of Latina farmworker immigrants in North Carolina to other Latina immigrant laborers. This study was part of a community-based participatory research collaboration with the NC Farmworkers Project that started in 2000. Community-based participatory research focuses on making community members “full and equal partners in all phases of the research process.”
In this study, female farmworkers reported greater stress and anxiety than women working outside the agricultural sector. The authors provided several reasons for these findings. First, the manual labor of farming is hazardous work; second, these jobs are seasonal, and employment is sporadic; third, working hours are long. Fourth, the farm industry has high rates of sexual harassment. The problem is so pervasive within the agricultural sector that the National Farm Worker Ministry has developed an online resource to provide women farmworkers with information they can use to advocate for their rights. And, in August, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund announced that it will provide support to the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas to educate farmworkers about sexual harassment and their legal rights.
The researchers note that older Latina farmworkers, who are less likely to have young children at home, reported lower levels of stress than younger Latina farmworkers. For some, the low wages of the agricultural sector and other characteristics of this work can exacerbate stress related to balancing work with family responsibilities.
The care of Latina farmworkers should involve attention to the specific mental health needs of this group as well as the physical problems, as these women have far higher rates of anxiety and depressive than other segments of the American female population.
Feature image: Joseph Sorrentino/iStock