This module is a resource for lecturers


Key issues


Why should we discuss gender in organized crime research?


The Perspective of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

"Gender matters in criminal justice and security matters. Crimes have profoundly different impacts on women and men. They face different risks and are thus victimized in different ways. For example, more young men are recruited into organized criminal groups; more women are at risk of violence in their home by someone that is known to them. In efforts to prevent crime or reduce risks, women and men act differently. There is growing evidence that understanding gender relations, identities and inequalities can help improve rule of law technical assistance. The criminal justice system provides different experiences for women and men. Often assumptions are made based on stereotypical perceptions of women's and men's roles. Men are often seen as perpetrators of violence and women as passive victims. Women and men often highlight different concerns and bring different perspectives, experiences and solutions to the issues. Understanding these differences and inequalities can help identify needs, target assistance and ensure that all needs are met."

Why does gender matter in the study of organized crime? Discussing gender is ultimately part of a larger project towards equality and justice that involves us all. Bringing gender into organized crime debates is key to identifying needs, patterns and trends, to crafting solutions, and to targeting assistance in ways that is meaningful and cognizant of both women and men's experiences. Without understanding gender aspects in organized crime there is a risk that we do not fully comprehend what drives it and how to build the comprehensive response necessary to combat it. But how can we do it? And do we need to do it?

The answer is simple: gender belongs in the classroom because the human experience is shaped by gender. Gender is part of what people see in us, how we see others and how we act. Therefore, gender is also part of the experiences of the men and women who participate in organized crime. Learning and knowing how gender shapes their interactions with the law is fundamental in any kind of criminal justice analysis.

Some claim that there is no need to bring gender discussions to the table, as we should try to be gender neutral in our assessments, or in other words, we should avoid "seeing" gender (see also definition in glossary). Nonetheless, gender is not something we are blind to. To claim we do not see gender (or that we do not care about race or class for that matter) implies underestimating our own, often unconscious biases and the experiences faced by other people - most importantly, the inequalities that impact them (for a discussion on gender discrimination and implicit bias, see Module 9 on Gender Dimensions of Ethics of the UNODC Teaching Module Series on Integrity and Ethics). Gender dimensions should therefore be considered as essential to research and criminological analysis, and not merely a separate or stand-alone part of organized crime research or scholarship. Each one of us also has their own experiences with gender. The way we relate to the people and the practices we research are also the result of the ways we ourselves see gender. Social scientists now accept that "our background and position affect what [we] choose to investigate, the angle of investigation, the methods judged most adequate for this purpose, the findings considered most appropriate, and the framing and communication of conclusions'' (Malterud, 2001: 483-484).

We also bring gender to the classroom as it is part of each one of our pedagogical choices. We select materials that contain specific messages about gender and share them with others, who may or may not share our experiences, beliefs and perceptions. An important component of bringing gender analysis into organized crime debates therefore involves unpacking our own views on gender and supporting others as they do the same. It is not simple. Most of us have spent the majority of our lives understanding gender as something we are born with, not something we learn. Furthermore, gender debates have often been simplistically constructed as a women's issue, when men are also gendered and are therefore an essential part of the conversation.


The following sections provide a descriptive overview of the key issues that lecturers might want to cover with their students when teaching on this topic:

Next: What is sex? What is gender? What is intersectionality? Why should we care?
Back to top