The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, AL, launched the Bandana Project through their program Esperanza: The Immigrant Woman’s Legal Initiative. Esperanza, which means “hope” in Spanish, focuses on the issues of harassment and sexual assault of farmworker women. The National Initiative provides education on workplace rights to farmworking women and works to raise awareness of this issue in communities throughout the United States. Monica Ramirez, an attorney at the SPLC who directs the initiative, began this program while working as an Equal Justice Works fellow in Florida. She states:
“For a long time, no one was talking about this. Women were too often afraid to come forward. No legal services program was focusing on this issue, and few organizations had expertise or resources to dedicate to it. But we need to know about it, and we need to be outraged. We want these women to have a voice, and we want these companies to pay for the illegal behavior that’s being committed in their workplace.”
The program not only focuses on farmworker women but also on all immigrant women working in low-income sectors such as meat-packing plants, canneries, and hotel and service industries. From the experiences of these women, the Esperanza Initiative decided to launch the Bandana Project as a campaign to help raise awareness of the exploitation of farmworking women. The reason for using the Bandanas came from the experiences of farmworker women who say that they use the bandanas, as well as over sized clothing, to try to hide their gender to protect themselves from sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace. The campaign also uses the bandanas as a public display of solidarity and support for victims and survivors of this violence.
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, many cities across the Nation invite their communities, including members of the farmworking communities, universities and other agencies, to decorate bandanas. These decorated bandanas are then displayed in public areas such as museums, libraries, and community centers throughout the month of April. Many Rape Crisis Centers in California are now including displays such as these during their SAAM activities and events. Monica Ramirez adds,
“Through this project, we try to bring a sense of hope, confidence and the will to be brave. It is our wish that these women will see our encouragement as a sign that they no longer have to suffer in silence.”