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4th Annual Women 2 Women Conference: Engaging and Supporting Farmworker Women

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April 19, 2013


Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending this conference, the 4th of its kind, and hearing about it is nothing compared to actually being there. From the moment I entered the church where the event was housed I heard hearty laughter and bustling conversation, it was never dull, and was truly the best way I’ve spent my Saturday in a long time. The conference was put on by the Florida Farmworker Association of Florida  (FWAF) and Maria Santana, director of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Through contributions and donations they were able to provide both lunch and a full dinner to the attendees, but what was most spectacular about the day was the variety of workshops offered, and how the event seemed to provide something for everyone.

Here’s a list of the sections offered:
• Women’s Health
• Exercising (Zumba)
• Financial Freedom
• Pesticides
• Domestic Violence
• Immigration

The most popular section was the women’s health workshop which ended up being a full house of women from farmworker communities all over Florida. The topics included general women’s health, sexual health within relationships, and how to claim reproductive autonomy in a world that increasingly continues to either ignore or take advantage of our bodies.

Its not often that we really take the time to consider our farmworkers, and when we do, it seems that we’re only discussing the politics and legislation surrounding their status. What this conference provided was resources for these people to better themselves and their communities. I was ecstatic to see the focus on individuals as people rather than as burdens, the conference leaders appeared to actually listen to the issues and concerns that were brought up,  providing them with information to go and better their situations at home.

It’s a common assumption that farmworkers feel disgraced by their job and don’t take pride in their work, however this is completely false. In reality, farmworkers have an overwhelming sense pride for what they do, knowing fully that their hard work every day, sun up to sun down, helps the community at large.  I looked at the beautiful women of color smiling back at me, bearing witness to her immense sense of pride, a pride that I feel is all too often ignored and lost in translation.

During the conference I had the pleasure of speaking with the Director of the Women’s Studies Department at the UCF, Maria Santana. I got a few words about what led to her involvement in helping create the Women 2 Women conference, and its success over the last four years.

“They said to me, we want resolutions, we want a plan of action,” said MC. “We don’t want them to just tell us the signs and symptoms, we want to know what to do.”

These farmworker women want to be informed and empowered about the many health problems they face from working with pesticides for long days with few breaks and sub-par working conditions.  They take pride in what they do every day, and really just want the information so they can better their lives and the lives of their families.

“I think women are not aware of how close we are to each other, not only geographically because geographically we are not far from campus, but in our hopes and dreams,” said MC. “We all want to have a healthy body; we all want to have a family, perhaps the good fortune of having a job.”

“In this case if we have children, we want to be able to care for them and be better parents.”

For the first time since its existence, the conference also offered a men’s health workshop for the spouses of the women, stressing that communication between partners is essential in bettering their relationships and communities. When I asked MC what more she needed from community to make this event even bigger and better for next year she exclaimed,

“We would like to have a long year commitment, we are building a website for Women 2 Women so we can have a donate button. We would like to provide other things in terms of the children. Right now we provide a hygiene bag for each woman, and that’s all donated through volunteer time and money.”

What made me originally interested in writing this blog post was the opportunity to feature a great event for amazing people that really are the backbone of our society. We all go to the grocery store pick up our fruits and vegetables, but how often do we give this a second thought? Without these people,  the people that work long hours for very little pay, we wouldn’t have a lot of the food we are able to purchase.

It’s all about really taking the time to see that these farmworkers do so much for so many, and it’s time that they get the resources to better their own lives and situations. If nothing else, this event provided these hard-working people with a fun day, full of love, laughter and information. For it to keep growing and becoming even better, it needs people who really see the need and want to help.

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