Gender and Organized Crime in Latin America

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In Latin America, the participation of women in organized crime has been somewhat overlooked in academic and public policy debate due to the male dominance in the different criminal economies and the tendency to see criminal activities as a “man’s activity.” However, a more detailed analysis of drug trafficking, human trafficking and migrant smuggling through a gender lens provides an understanding of the roles women play.

From cooks and coca harvesters to owners of their drug empires or trafficking and smuggling networks, women operate in a versatile manner, challenging traditional stereotypes about how they participate in criminal groups.

By ignoring the active role women can play in criminal structures, it is impossible to gain a complete picture of organized crime. To fill this gap, this report by InSight Crime and Universidad del Rosario’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory charts the participation of women in three of Latin America’s main criminal economies: drug trafficking, human trafficking and migrant smuggling. An exhaustive review of articles, news reports and books on women and organized crime in the region show that — in the three illicit economies indicated — women exercise multiple roles, fluctuating between victims and trophies on one side and active criminal protagonists on the other.

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