MAGIC VALLEY — Sexual harassment is not a new issue farmworker women have had to face. According to Justice for Migrant Women, 80% of farmworker women surveyed in California said they have experienced sexual harassment while out working in the fields.
University of Idaho student, Beatrice Santiago, used to work out in the fields every summer with her family. She says she recalls hearing stories of women being sexually harassed and being too afraid to speak up.
“For me, I have encountered uncomfortable moments with the men because they would either catcall me or try to get my attention as I was working," Santiago said.
Which is why any time she was far from everyone else she feared for her safety.
“I remember just worrying because I couldn’t see any of my sisters or my mom because we have heard stories about women being harassed. That’s the reason why I try to wear bulky clothes because I don’t appreciate the comments," Santiago said.
But Santiago and a group of students at the University of Idaho are hoping to change that narrative by launching the bandana project in Idaho, a nationwide initiative led by Justice for Migrant Women to raise awareness on this issue.
“We see it every day, but we don’t realize it until somebody’s talking about it," Jeanette Orozco, Retention Specialist for the College Assistance Migrant Program at the University of Idaho, said.
The College Assistant Migrant Program, CAMP, a program that assists students that come from farm working backgrounds with financial and academic services, partnered with the Women's center to help launch this campaign.
The campaign has people create their own bandanas in support of these women who are often undocumented and live in fear of speaking up.
“It’s just a way to take back the way we use bandanas. I feel like a lot of women obviously don’t just use it for protection but to cover themselves up," Maria Juarez, a student at the University of Idaho, said.
The organization says a lot of these women don't report these cases for fear of deportation and not being believed.
“Not all the farmworkers are documented and so that’s another fear if I report what's going to happen to me. Will I get deported? Just a fear of ‘what if’ what’s going to happen? And that’s why a lot of people chose to be quiet. It's not because they want to be, it's because they have to be," Orozco said.
Most undocumented farmworkers who are in the U.S. on an H-2A visa also don't have the ability to switch employers because of this they stay quiet to avoid losing their job.
“H2A workers with their visas they’re tied to these employers so they don’t like how they’re treated and they speak up, they can’t say ok I quit and go to a different employer, they are stuck with this person for the period that they are here," Santiago said.
They hope this project will bring awareness to this issue and justice for migrant women.
“Not a lot of people know the struggles farmworkers go through, especially female farmworkers," Jessica Betancourt, University of Idaho student, said.
To learn more about the project and how you can get involved, you can visit their Facebook page.