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Conclusions

As has been reiterated throughout this report, the participation of women in organized criminal economies is becoming ever more relevant. Studies of this phenomenon, which have been fundamental in understanding this situation, are still too few.

In addition, these studies have mainly focused on examining the female prison population linked to minor drug trafficking roles or the victimization and exploitation of women within human trafficking and migrant smuggling. This has left other avenues of potential analysis unexplored. The full spectrum of women’s participation in different organized crime dynamics across Latin America presented in this document is one such avenue.

The characterization of the roles women play in criminal economies —  such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and migrant smuggling — is intended to provide a more nuanced picture of existing knowledge. Although female participation has been lower than male participation and has traditionally been focused on subordinate roles in a criminal world that privileges and rewards male behaviors, the growing prominence of women in organized crime merits thoughtful and layered analysis.

*This article is part of an investigation by InSight Crime and Universidad del Rosario’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory into the complexity of female roles inside organized crime, questioning the tendency to present women only as victims, or in some cases, as victimizers. Download the complete “Women and Organized Crime in Latin America: Beyond Victims and Victimizers” report here

It has been argued that the gender lens is highly useful for understanding this complexity, since it allows for the visualization of gender arrangements within criminal structures. These assign differentiated and hierarchical roles to men and women, and exalt supposedly masculine values, as occurs in other spheres of social life, but are also frequently transgressed by women whose behavior deviates from the established rules. The construction of a more complete picture of women within organized crime, including the factors driving them to join, the roles they play and their ability to evolve within these groups, is imperative in designing effective public policies to tackle this problem.

Recommendations

1. Strengthen statistical information systems related to organized crime and the participation of women in criminal acts — as victims and victimizers — in order to bolster academic research in the area, and to build baselines that  can feed the design and evaluation of specific public policies.

2. In order to accurately build strategies which account for the varied nature of the participation of women in criminal economies, a gender lens must be applied to this area, as has happened in numerous other areas of public policy.

3. Understand the factors that drive women to participate in illegal acts for preventive purposes. Although their motivations are varied, marginalization and the types of need derived from it are decisive factors leading them toward criminal activity. Prevention policies should be focused on the creation of economic alternatives for women, who face poverty and reside in areas with a strong organized crime presence. Putting these resources in place at an early age through improved education and inclusion programs in highly vulnerable areas could reduce the recruitment of women into organized crime groups.

4. Map out the multiple and varied roles women play in organized crime and criminal economies across Latin America, including illegal mining, smuggling and extortion. This implies an exhaustive review of the location of criminal economies and the way they function in different countries, the systematization of the roles performed by women and the construction of indicators that allow for rigorous monitoring of the problem.

5. For the construction of a regional panorama regarding the participation of women in organized crime dynamics, information systems should be strengthened using mixed methodologies (qualitative and quantitative) in all Latin American countries. In this regard, quantitative information is vital to generate baselines, as well as for the formulation and evaluation of public policies.

6. Promote the empowerment of women through collective initiatives that seek to give opportunities to those at risk of being recruited by organized crime. In Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, for example, there are cases where female coca growers have assumed leadership roles within their communities and are working on collective initiatives that seek to provide opportunities for people at risk of being recruited into organized crime.

7. In the context of the fight against organized crime, it is necessary to understand the factors that push women towards participating in illegal activities in order to generate policies that prevent this in the first place. Although the reasons for women joining organized crime are varied, one of the main factors is poverty, coupled with the need to provide for their families. Public policies aimed at prevention should be focused on providing economic alternatives for women in vulnerable contexts due to the lack of opportunities and the presence of organized crime groups. For this, resources should be concentrated on prevention for young women through public schools or social inclusion programs.

8. Generate robust collaborative mechanisms between local, regional and national governments across Latin America, including allowing survivors of migrant smuggling and human trafficking to receive assistance, accompaniment, protection and reparations in accordance with the laws of each country. It is especially important to have internal control mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses against victims of human trafficking that report their cases to the authorities, especially when the victims have also acted as recruiters or participated in the trafficking network’s activities. The lack of knowledge the authorities have regarding the protocols for the attention of victims of human trafficking increases their distrust of police and leads to an increased possibility of revictimization.

9. Urge Latin American police and judicial bodies to apply a gender approach to their investigations, including the appointing of investigators or prosecutors dedicated to gender issues, and the establishment of support measures for people, especially women, who decide to denounce human trafficking and migrant smuggling networks.

10. Seek effective collaboration between social, economic and educational policy institutions in order to reorient those women specialized in certain roles within criminal economies towards reintegration programs. This is, because some specific skills developed inside criminal groups, such as logistics or finance, could be redirected toward legal employment.

11. Review the use of punitive measures like jail time as a punishment for crimes related to organized crime committed by women. In general, the women that are arrested for these crimes are in the lowest ranks of the organization, taking on high-risk tasks, such as transporting or selling small amounts of drugs. Since most of these women are not a threat to public security and their arrests do not have a significant impact on drug trafficking networks, seeking alternatives to incarceration and reducing the overall time spent in prisons may help break the vicious cycle in which women enter organized crime due to a lack of opportunities and are faced with even less opportunities upon leaving prison.

*This article is part of an investigation by InSight Crime and Universidad del Rosario’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory into the complexity of female roles inside organized crime, questioning the tendency to present women only as victims, or in some cases, as victimizers. Download the complete “Women and Organized Crime in Latin America: Beyond Victims and Victimizers” report here

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