Latin America / Gender issues

What gender is organised crime?

24 February 2021

Globalisation and the pandemic have revealed cracks in democracy in some countries, showing the weakness of their public health systems and the lack of social protection for vulnerable people, and the gap, still pending, in equality between men and women. We are the worst affected by all types of crises, particularly since we tend to have inferior working conditions than those afforded to men. The modus operandi of organised crime have also changed and adapted to post-pandemic life, but what about the women in organised crime structures?

They also have to cope with the effects of the crisis and it seems fair to assume that they already suffer discrimination within criminal organisations, meaning they have even more to tolerate. Perhaps the time has come to introduce public, judicial, police and prison policies that offer repentant women greater legal and criminal protection that will set an example for their colleagues. And to give women who see crime as the only way out of their terrible lives alternatives to prevent them from getting involved in the first place. A good way to strengthen the fight against crime is to prevent recruitment and encourage repentant members to leave.

What is the role of women in criminal organisations?

As pointed out in this report published by InSight Crime in 2020, there are very few studies that examine the participation of women in organised crime activities in Latin America because it is considered a “man’s job”. This is also evident in the publication “Gangs and Women in Central America: Problems and Solutions in Law” published by EL PAcCTO with participation by experts on the subject. This study also shows the internal violence suffered by female gang members: who are victims of sexual assault and are considered disposable before the courts.

The publication “Women and Organized Crime in Latin America: Beyond Victims and Victimizers” points out that women have important roles in organised crimes including drug, human and migrant trafficking. They are also at the forefront of criminal financing with activities such as illegal mining, extortion and robberies.

Considering gender to effectively fight crime

Among the important conclusions of this study are the need to:

  • Strengthen public policies and commission studies in this area to develop more specific policies
  • Understand the factors that cause women to join criminal organisations to encourage social policies that will prevent them from getting involved
  • Investigate women’s roles in criminal activities and their role at the forefront of financing crime
  • Encourage the empowerment of women to discourage their recruitment
  • Encourage specialised police and judicial bodies to apply a gender component to their investigations and establish support for women who decide to report human and migrant trafficking networks
  • Review prison sentences for crimes committed by women. These are generally minor crimes with extremely stiff penalties.

This latter point could be addressed by applying measures other than prison sentences. This is something EL PAcCTO is encouraging in Latin America.

In short, crime has been considered the purview of men, but more and more women are becoming involved. Understanding what women do, their motives, objectives and roles in criminal activities is a good starting point to combat its effects. Incorporating a feminist crime-fighting policy will be innovative, practical and effective, in line with EU priorities. We would also be on the path to achieving the 2030 Agenda Development Goals regarding a sustainable health recovery based on human development and equality between women and men. Because in crime, as in life, the glass ceilings are still there. We must search them out and break them to achieve a safe society with empowered women who do not turn to crime.

María Jesús Martín

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