J4MW partners with ABLE to help migrant workers in Ohio
There are approximately 900,000 female farmworkers in the U.S., many of whom face challenges that are much different than those of their male counterparts, including fear of retribution for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, for demanding equal pay for equal work, and for addressing issues of workplace safety. For female migrant workers, fighting back could mean getting fired, being deported, or worse.
Being an advocate for these women has always been a part of Monica Ramirez’s life. From a family of migrant workers who settled in Fremont, Ohio, she started working with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) when she was 16, and founded Justice for Migrant Women (J4MW) in 2014 to help women know their rights. Her organization and ABLE have partnered to be a resource for migrant workers in Ohio.
“It’s been a mix of outreach, training, learning from one another and also trying to create new materials and resources that can be used for outreach efforts throughout the state,” says Ramirez of the partnership between the two organizations.
The combination of legal expertise from ABLE and advocacy for workers who’ve experienced sexual harassment from J4MW includes training advocates on harassment outreach in Ohio, hosting focus groups for women to tell their stories, and know-your-rights training in agricultural camps. They also help with filing forms and documents, making referrals, and other complicated processes that can be overwhelming for workers.
“I returned to the area following the ICE raids that happened last year because it was really clear that there was a lot of need in Ohio to provide more resources and services,” Ramirez says. “So much of the focus has been on the raids and immigration crisis on the border, and people aren’t looking to the interior of the country. I felt it was really important to offer whatever support I could to the allies who were on the ground through work we do for migrant women, and to shine more of a national spotlight on what’s happening throughout the country.”
Ramirez also emphasizes that the work her organization is doing isn’t exclusively for women. “I think it’s important, with this project in particular, that we recognize that men also experience violations and sexual harassment. It’s not just a women’s problem.”
Ramirez wants people to know that the injustices faced by migrant workers have a ripple effect for everyone in our state. The workers are paying sales and other taxes as consumers, but that contribution to the economy stops when they are afraid to leave their homes. Additionally, when victims of sexual harassment or assault don’t speak up due to fear of retribution— whether it is because they are undocumented or have family members who are undocumented— it affects everyone in the community as the unreported assailant can then attack again.
“I’m hopeful that community members will be welcoming to these new immigrants because right now is a very scary time for a lot of immigrants— both documented and undocumented,” says Ramirez. She credits ABLE and HOLA for the long-time work they’ve done in Ohio. “We’re happy to contribute as collaborators. There’s a longstanding tradition in Ohio of supporting immigrant community members and farmworkers.”