As more and more Latina women are entering the farm labor workforce, the unique challenges they face are also increasing. Recent research out of Boise State University found that Latina farmworkers, in particular, faced various workplace and had to deal with several obstacles that were different and more severe than their male counterparts.
The research was gathered based on interviews and data from 70 Latina farmworkers in Southwest Idaho from October 2018 to June 2019. Data and responses were collected through focus groups (22 participants), structured interviews (11 participants), and urine samples to test for pesticide exposure (from 44 participants).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the percentage of women in farm labor is increasing in recent years — in 2018, women made up 25.5% of farmworkers nationwide, compared to 18.6% in 2009. But as that percentage has increased, the issues that female workers face became even more prevalent. These women are more likely than their male peers to take on more emotional and physical labor involved in managing a household, the research out of Boise State found.
Other areas of concern for Latina farmworkers included their pay, poor medical care or lack of access to health insurance, hazardous work conditions including exposure to dangerous pesticides, and stress over their immigration status in this country.
For single women farmworkers, in particular, they experienced difficulty paying rent, and they worried about having enough money for groceries because of their low income.
In terms of harsh working conditions, the women farmworkers responsible for spraying pesticides were at an increased risk of hazardous exposure to those chemicals. Based on urine analysis, it was clear that the female workers in charge of applying those pesticides had the highest MDA concentrations, a metabolite common in insecticide. When questioned, the women told researchers that they had not received any training on pesticide safety, putting that at risk for potential health hazards.
Despite these concerns and risky working conditions, the Latina farmworkers still feel a special bond with one another and a commitment to their work.
“So many women expressed, even in the face of all of these challenges, a love for each other and a love for nature and being able to contribute,” explains researcher Lisa Meierotto. The women expressed an appreciation for working outside and working alongside other Latina women. “It is difficult work, but beautiful work,” one worker told the researchers in Spanish.