Em-URGE-ing Voices

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This is How You Build an Intersectional Reproductive Justice Movement

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February 18, 2016


We often criticize, push, and urge activist movements around us to go further, to be more intersectional. It’s not negativity that spurs this criticism; intersectionality is just an important practice that asks more of movements that are trying to build a better, fairer future. But when we critically engage with social justice movements we shouldn’t forget that people are already doing the kind of work that we imagine when we call for more comprehensive activism. Looking to them can inspire and sustain us. If you want to see an intersectional, reproductive justice movement at work, then look no further than the coalition of organizations who’ve worked to realize the farmworker bill of rights for over 40,000 laborers in Southern California.

The bill of rights, inspired in part by the explosion of protests for workers’ rights in the past year, is a far reaching, inspirational document. Activists have compiled a list of 80 demands grouped into three categories that represent some of the most pressing issues low wage workers face today: wage theft, safety and health, and overwork. Many of the demands focus on enforcing existing laws against wage theft (which includes employers denying overtime pay and violating minimum wage) and ensuring that employers respect required rest breaks.

Many of the demands being made, however, propose solutions to problems endemic to an industry that largely employs women and undocumented immigrants. The bill calls for informing workers of their rights in the language they’re most comfortable speaking and establishing a complaint hotline for workers to discreetly report abuse. Activists also address the epidemic of sexual violence that female workers, particularly undocumented female workers, face while working in the fields. The bill demands that Ventura and Santa Barbara counties create a position in their local governments dedicated to investigating the almost universal experience of sexual violence undocumented women are forced to endure at the hands of their employers.

These policies are vital for undocumented immigrants and women who otherwise lack meaningful access to formal legal recourse for fear of retribution in the form of deportation or job loss. This means that women often have to choose between continued sexual violence and one of their only opportunities to earn a paycheck. The bill also addresses health and environmental hazards often faced by women who work in low wage industries by demanding that employers allow pregnant women to decide to refrain from field work for fear of exposing themselves to toxic pesticides.

All of these demands seamlessly weave labor justice, immigration justice, environmental justice, and reproductive justice together to benefit the workers who are too often overlooked. Let’s celebrate this bill of rights as a step in the right direction towards balancing the scale of power in favor of the workers who make the farming industry possible. Challenging the policies and norms that allow employers to continuously exploit their workers in the name of increased profit represents the heart of the reproductive justice movement. This bill of rights for workers shows us all how to continue to hope for and realize a future that not only recognizes the basic dignity and humanity of those who grow our food. It shows us the collective power of all workers and reminds us that access to a life free of violence is happening here and now.

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