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Justice for Migrant Women

Together we will win: Justice for Migrant Women founder Mónica Ramirez on the power of community in creating social change

Mónica Ramirez is a long-time advocate, organizer, social entrepreneur, and attorney fighting to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity. For over two decades, she has fought for the civil and human rights of women, children, workers, Latinos/as, and immigrants. 

In 2002, Mónica Ramirez started her first legal project in the United States while she was a law student applying for a postgraduate fellowship. The project focused on representing farmworker women and was later scaled in 2006 to become a national project known as Esperanza: The Immigrant Women’s Legal Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

In 2014, Mónica took this project a step further, scaling it once again to create Justice for Migrant Women, a stand-alone initiative to serve migrant women and their families. Since 2021, the organization is now a 501(c)(3) independent non-profit. 

Today, Justice for Migrant Women works to amplify the voices of migrant women and the struggles they face in their personal and work lives and create space for them when so many of them are silenced. 

Through public awareness and educational campaigns, art activism, and strategic media initiatives, Justice for Migrant Women is bringing the issues and struggles of migrant women to the forefront of national conversation. 

Justice for Migrant Women

Photo courtesy of Justice for Migrant Women.

“I come from a family of farmworkers, so Justice for Migrant Women was born out of love for my community and a commitment to serve migrant women and their families, many of whom remind me of my own family,” says Justice for Migrant Women President and Founder. 

Like the people she serves as a leader and advocate, Mónica has faced doubt and criticism throughout her career for her identity as a Latina. 

“Throughout my career, some of the biggest obstacles that I have faced relate to the fact that I am a young Latina woman. Many people doubted my ability to create or sustain an organization to make my vision become a reality. They questioned my credentials and whether I could be the kind of leader worth investing in,” Mónica says. “I serve individuals who are also doubted and not given enough credit for their resilience, strength, and courage. They somehow not only survive but thrive and help the rest of us survive, too!”

Photo via Justice for Migrant Women on Instagram.

 You might be interested: Death in the fields: U.S. Migrant farm workers are dying as extreme heat rises

Mónica has served women and families who have overcome some of the most unimaginable, most difficult circumstances. Despite challenges, they continue moving forward. Mónica believes we can all learn so many lessons just through their example. 

“Part of my mission has been making sure that these stories are heard, but largely my mission has been focused on doing all that it is in my power to change these conditions so that we can remove the barriers.

I hope that from my story and from the example of those who I serve, readers will find comfort in knowing that believing in ourselves has value and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of believing in ourselves.”

Justice for Migrant Women

Magadalena and Efrain from The Humans Who Feed Us, an initiative by Justice for Migrant Women. (Photo courtesy Justice for Migrant Women)

“Together we will win”

As an entrepreneur and leader, Mónica  is a risk-taker with a willingness to innovate and test things out. This mindset has been key to much of her progress and success with her organization. 

“We don’t always know what is going to work or what campaign will be successful, but winning justice and equality isn’t dependent on one thing. It’s many different tactics and strategies—wins and failures, plus the learnings along the way—that will help us achieve our goals.

Another key strength that has been a pillar throughout Mónica’s career is her passion for building communities and partnerships. Community is at the heart of Justice for Migrant Women and the work they do. 

Mónica shares a favorite quote: “Together we will win.” This quote has stuck with her over the years and driven her work as an advocate and leader. 

“In this line of work it’s necessary that we all remember that social change can not come from the back of an individual, it takes a diverse and dedicated community of allies. Justice for Migrant Women is such a wonderful example of that type of community, where individuals from all walks of life come together to protect and uplift migrant women,” she says. 

“There is too much need and work to do in this world to ever even consider wanting to do it on my own. I want to have as many people as possible on my team, using their strengths, skills and heart to drive change. I would rather spend my time building bridges and figuring out a way that we can all win rather than limiting opportunities or resources so that only a few people win.”

Get involved with Justice for Migrant Women

“A valuable lesson that I have learned from the community is that staying the course is important but so is remembering that sometimes we need friends, family and allies to help support us along the way. It’s important to ask for help and there is no shame in asking for what we need,” says Mónica.

Are you ready to join the community and help amplify the voices of migrant women? Here are a few projects and initiatives by Justice for Migrant Women to look into!

The Humans Who Feed Us

Thousands of individuals work across the food supply chain ranging from agricultural workers, restaurant workers, grocery store employees, truck drivers, meat and poultry workers, and so many others. Immigrant community members are among those who help to feed us through their work. Many of these workers are often invisible to people and the communities where they work and live even though they touch our lives every day through their life-sustaining labor.

Launched in August 2021, “The Humans Who Feed Us” seeks to center these workers, their stories, their contributions, and their priorities. The project humanizes workers across the food supply chain; shows the interdependence among businesses, the workers they employ and consumers; and fosters a sense of belonging for these incredible community members in the places where they live and work.

You might be interested: Are migrant families entitled to government financial compensation?

Justice for Migrant Women

Photo via Justice for Migrant Women on Instagram.

The Bandana Project

The Bandana Project is a public awareness campaign aimed at addressing the issue of workplace sexual violence against migrant farmworker women in the United States. White bandanas are used as a symbol of the sexual exploitation of farmworker women because farmworker women have said that they use their clothes, including bandanas, to protect them from sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

Community members, community organizations, governmental representatives, lawyers, anti-sexual violence activists and many others decorate and exhibit white bandanas to show their solidarity with the fight to end this serious problem.

Healing Voices Project

The “Healing Voices” project is a unique new idea to address a critical gap in the farmworker organizing ecosystem – focusing on healing personal and community trauma as a needed step in increasing power for farmworkers to be drivers of change.

Supported by funding from The Workers Lab Innovation Fund and the Collective Future Fund, Justice for Migrant Women is working in partnership with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA), the Eva Longoria Foundation (ELF) and Latinx Therapy to pilot this first-of-its-kind mental health initiative for farmworkers. The work will support the holistic healing of some of the 2.5 to 3 million US farmworkers who have experienced decades of traumatizing working conditions, economic insecurity and vulnerability, all of which were exacerbated by COVID-19.

To learn more about Justice for Migrant Women’s projects visit justice4women.org

Death in the fields: U.S. Migrant farm workers are dying as extreme heat rises

Increased extreme temperatures throughout the U.S. are contributing to heat-related deaths among migrant farm workers. 

Photo by Akin on Unsplash

If you live in the northern hemisphere, then you’ve probably noticed the summer season has been especially brutal this year. The increase in temperatures has been a trend in recent years, with summer after summer breaking new records. Extreme heat waves have been reported across the U.S. over the past few months, with June 2021 becoming the hottest June on record in the U.S.  

These record-breaking temperatures are contributing to a rise in heat illness, which includes heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.  According to the CDC, about 700 people die in the U.S. each year from heat-related exposure.

For those working outdoors during this hot climate, the dangers are even greater. Long hours of direct exposure to heat can quickly lead to life-threatening conditions. Already, farmers and field workers are seeing the devastating effects of rising heat as workers die on the job. 

Death on the job: The deadly effects of heat illness

A recent Bloomberg article detailed the plight of U.S. farm workers who are battling the extreme heat with little to no protective measures in place to ensure their safety in the workplace. According to data collected by Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, nearly 70,000 U.S. workers were seriously injured due to excessive heat between 1992 and 2016. Additionally, there have been 783 workplace deaths attributed to excessive heat in those years. 

These dangerous conditions have already resulted in at least three deaths, according to the labor union, United Farm Workers, who have been attempting to track cases of heat-related deaths. 

Florencio Gueta Vargas, a 69 year old farm worker from Washington, was one of the individuals whose recent death has been attributed to heat-related causes. Gueta Vargas was found by his boss slumped over a tractor on Thursday, July 29th. That day the temperature had risen to the triple digits. 

His daughter, Lorena Gonzalez –one of six children that Gueta Vargas worked to support– blames working conditions and the family believes his death could have been prevented. On a GoFundMe to raise money for her father’s funeral she wrote, “Due to these high temperatures and working conditions my father was found dead at work due heatstroke.” 

Heat stroke is one of many heat illnesses and often fatal. Early symptoms of heat illness include headaches, dizziness, or extreme tiredness. Symptoms of heat stroke include: 

  • Change in mental state, such as confusion, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things) and slurred speech
  • Increased body temperature — 104 degrees F or higher
  • Hot, red, dry skin with no sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Trouble walking
  • Seizures

[Source Mayo Clinic

Heat temperature alone is not the only concern when it comes to heat illness. Humidity is another important factor that affects the body’s experience of heat. Humidity actually makes it harder for our bodies to cool down. When there is humidity, it becomes harder for sweat to evaporate off the skin. The evaporation of sweat is what allows our bodies to cool down. 

Since her father’s passing, Lorena Gonzalez has visited her father’s worksite every day. In a PBS article, she describes the temperatures in the fields: the high humidity and smoke from nearby wildfires are heavy weight on her chest. She notes that her father was constantly exposed to these elements driving a tractor with no roof. The lack of protective measures for farmers from the equipment used to lax protocols for dealing with heat and taking breaks all contribute to the unsafe working conditions farm workers are facing today. 

“I just wish they would understand he was a person, that this is so hard on his daughters. My dad — God knows how long he was out there,” said Lorena.

Increasing safety in the workplace for farm workers 

Due to the increasing climate related dangers facing farm workers, advocates are now pushing for OSHA regulations to issue federal heat standards. These standards would require water, shade, and rest breaks to all farm workers. 

In an article by The Guardian, Florida farm worker Tere Cruz said, “It would be really good to have a broad rule so when farm owners see that temperatures are way too high they need to stop and allow people to rest. Things as they are right now, you can see when it’s really hot that by 1 or 2 in the afternoon, people just can’t work any more. But there’s this real pressure to keep working and keep working.” Cruz added, “We’re not animals, we’re human beings, but there’s this feeling that no matter what happens, even when people can’t seem to work any more, the bosses keep pushing and pushing.”

Currently, there are no OSHA regulations to cover heat illness, however efforts are being made to change this. According to Bloomberg, a letter was recently signed on August 3rd by several senators asking the health agency to take action  by creating permanent and enforceable heat standards to ensure safety in the workplace. Ohio senator Sherrod Brown said, “Protecting workers from heat stress is essential” as temperatures continue to rise due to climate change. 

So far, both Oregon and Washington have issued emergency rules to address the heat issue and ensure safety in the workplace, but advocates say these measures are not enough. 

“These are not financial policies, these are health and safety protections,” said  Elizabeth Strater, an organizer with the United Farm Workers. “These are actual men and women and children going out into the fields to work and die to feed the rest of this country, and they are being treated as though they are this human buffer to ensure that there continues to be a well-stocked fridge in your air-conditioned kitchen.” 

You might be interested: Poultry farms and Latino workers at the forefront of COVID-19

Additionally, many farm workers are undocumented migrants. This makes it difficult for workers to challenge unsafe working conditions or seek legal aid. Many do not speak out, fearing deportation, cut hours, or job loss. Due to these factors, many safety violations go unreported. A set standard for heat-related stress and illness at the federal level would ensure that all workers are protected. As advocates, we need to continue to push for better practices and workplace safety regulations because in the words of Lorena Gonzalez, “No one deserves to pass away at work.”