Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Helene Berman


In recent years, increased global mobility for work, gendered approaches to migration, and the vulnerabilities of women in temporary and precarious work have received increased attention. However, there is limited evidence regarding the health of women temporary foreign workers in Canadian agriculture. The purposes of this critical ethnography using feminist and intersectional perspectives were to: 1) explore and describe women temporary agricultural workers’ experiences and meanings of health in the context of prolonged and repeated uprootedness from their homes and families, 2) to critically examine how the intersections of current gendered, global, political and economic conditions shaped their everyday lives and work, and 3) to collaboratively promote the development of programs and policies to support change. Data collection occurred over a twenty-month period through observational fieldwork, in-depth individual and group interviews, and the exploration of relevant systems, structures and contexts. Participants included 20 women in two federal programs whose countries of origin were Jamaica, Mexico and the Philippines. Analysis was an iterative process to identify and describe themes, relationships and power relations through the participants’ representations of their lives.

The women interviewed recognized the injustices of needing to migrate for employment and in the working conditions they encountered. Yet due to the scarcity of economic resources in their countries of origin, they perceived their work in Canada as a necessary and caring maternal “sacrifice” in order to provide for their children. Temporary agricultural work was an essential opportunity, albeit one with costs to personal health due to the structural violence inherent in the restrictive and isolating terms of their employment contracts, crowded living conditions and the potential for workplace injuries. The women emphasized the importance of maintaining a “mindset” to adjust to repeated uprootedness from their children and families. Health, agency and resilience were promoted through emotional support from other women workers, technology to facilitate interpersonal connections, recreational and religious activities, and for some, overt resistance in publicly questioning the gendered and intersecting inequities of Canadian temporary foreign worker programs. Nurses in practice and research need to have increased involvement in the multiple, collaborative and creative strategies necessary for change.