Female Drug Smugglers on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Gender, Crime, and Empowerment

Citation:

Campbell, Howard. 2008. "Female Drug Smugglers on the U-S.-Mexico Border: Gender, Crime, and Empowerment." Anthropological Quarterly 81 (1): 233-67.

Author: Howard Campbell

Abstract:

Women's involvement in drug trafficking in recent years has expanded dramatically. Yet there are few studies of female drug smugglers, the causes of female involvement in smuggling, and the impact of smuggling on women's lives specifically. In this article, I provide in-depth ethnographic interviews and observations of a broad spectrum of female drug smugglers on the U.S. Mexico border. Moving beyond stereotypes, I examine how drug trafficking affects women's relationships with men and their position in society. Economic and cultural factors strongly shape women's involvement in drug smuggling and the effects of smuggling on their lives, but these factors and effects vary significantly, depending on women's social class position and place within drug organizations. High-level female drug smugglers may be attracted to the power and mystique of drug trafficking and may achieve a relative independence from male dominance. Middle-level women in smuggling organizations obtain less freedom vis-á-vis men but may manipulate gender stereotypes to their advantage in the smuggling world. Low-level mules also perform (or subvert) traditional gender roles as a smuggling strategy, but receive less economic benefit and less power, though in some cases some independence from male domestic control. A fourth category of women do not smuggle drugs but are negatively impacted by the male smugglers with whom they are associated. I argue that drug smuggling frequently leads to female victimization, especially at the lowest and middle levels of drug trafficking organizations. However, it is also, in the case of high-level and some low-level and middle-level smugglers, a vehicle for female empowerment.

Keywords: war on drugs, patriarchy, shadow economies

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Trafficking, Drug Trafficking Regions: Americas, North America Countries: Mexico, United States of America

Year: 2008

© 2017 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.