Report: Rise of Women in Mexican Criminal Groups

Not paying enough attention to women's issues, Mexican society has increasingly pushed them to seek refuge and power in illicit groups in the country, the non-profit International Crisis Group (ICG) stated in its latest report on Monday.

Mexico Women Jail ICGWomen in Mexico, particularly those in the most vulnerable situations, are increasingly drawn into the folds of organized criminal groups. Regrettably, for many, the only route out of this perilous involvement seems to be through incarceration. (Photo: Angelica Ospina/Crisis Group, License)The report highlights that women and their bodies are often targeted by criminal groups.

“'When these organizations battle for turf, they often commit femicides and ‘disappearances’ of women – killing them and disposing of the remains – in part to demonstrate dominance in a geographical region,” reads the report.

But this is not the only way in which women play a role within criminal groups. Facing high rates of gender-based violence in the country, Mexican women are turning to organized crime groups for protection and seeking power and respect, which are often denied to them in other aspects of society.

The report, titled 'Partners in Crime: The Rise of Women in Mexico's Illegal Groups,' establishes that women's participation in criminal organizations has increased in recent years. This is supported by personal accounts, media reports, and analysis of prison population data.

Women are typically recruited from vulnerable backgrounds, often being victims of gender-based violence or having an addiction to drugs, with little or no support networks. They may enter criminal organizations through romantic partners, personal connections, or direct contact with drug dealers.

Once inside, women often assume roles as thieves, contract killers, gang leaders, money launderers, among other positions. In rare cases, they may be in charge of logistics for activities such as kidnapping, extortion, and migrant smuggling.

Promotion within the criminal organization is possible, but women often have to demonstrate a high capacity for violence, according to the ICG report.

The report notes that men in charge view women as desirable in criminal environments due to their perceived competence, respect for hierarchy, and ability to evade police attention. Criminal groups exploit gender stereotypes, making women less suspicious than men when it comes to committing crimes.

However, entering a criminal organization does not guarantee an easy exit for women, who face numerous challenges. Responsibilities to their children and families can make it difficult for them to escape. Their children may be forced to join as a means of punishment, and often, the only way out is through prison.

“When mothers end up behind bars, their children are more likely to adopt lives of crime themselves, particularly when they lack alternative caregivers. In other cases, children see the status and salaries their mothers derive from working within criminal organizations and emulate their choices,” reads the report.

To counter these developments, the report suggests that Mexico’s authorities and civil society should offer alternatives to organized crime for young women and provide them with better economic opportunities, protection, and strategies that dignify their lives.