Organised crime is one of the main problems faced by Latin America. This, according to the “Women in Organised Crime in Latin America: Beyond Victims and Victimisers” report commissioned by the Colombian Organised Crime Observatory.
Among its disruptive effects, the high levels of violence seen across the region are especially alarming. Since the 1990s, the opening-up of economies, in combination with the institutional weakness of the states and other social factors such as poverty and inequality, have favoured the growth of transnational criminal activities, including drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and migrant smuggling. As a result, Latin America has become the region with the fastest-growing criminal dynamics in the world.
Men have always been dominant in the different illegal economies, and a tendency to see criminal activities as a “man’s activity” has prevailed. Female participation in organised crime has largely been overlooked by academic analysis and public debate.
Due to the scarcity of information and data, investigations into this topic are limited although they have increased in the last decade. The relative invisibility of women in debates about organised crime stems from the general perception that they are appendices to male criminals, typically partners or sexual objects. Stereotypes of women as being dependent and weak reinforce the notion that they are incapable of making independent decisions regarding their participation in illegal activities.
Female participation in organised crime structures is not uniform. The diverse roles that women play in criminal economies allow us to characterise different types of participation forming a spectrum, which ranges from subordinates and victims to protagonists, leaders and perpetrators.
Despite the scarce systematic empirical evidence about the participation of women in organised crime, this investigation allows us to make some recommendations focused on prevention and attention for affected communities:
- Strengthen statistical information systems related to organised crime and the participation of women in diverse criminal acts, both as victims and perpetrators.
- Build strategies which account for the varied nature of the participation of women in organised crime economies.
- Understand the factors that drive women to participate in illegal acts for preventive purposes.
- Map out the multiple and varied roles women play in organised crime, including their role in other illegal economies like contraband and extortion.
- Promote the empowerment of women, through collective initiatives which seek to give opportunities to those at risk of being recruited by organised crime.
- Strengthen cooperation mechanisms, designed to help the victims of organised crime, between local, regional and national governments across Latin America.
- Urge Latin American police and judicial bodies to apply a gender approach to their investigations.
- Seek effective collaboration between social, economic and educational policy institutions to reorient those women specialised in certain roles within criminal economies towards legality.