In Italy, the first-ever study on women in Italian organized crime reveals that women are rising up the ranks to leadership positions. This is both because the mafia is changing, and women are changing the mafia.
From la dolce vita, the sweet life, to the malavita, the underworld, the growing presence of women is being felt everywhere in Italy.
Until recently, this was almost unthinkable. The first woman arrested for "criminal association" was just five years ago, in 1999. Police have known that women play a supporting role within the mafia: As mothers, wives, and daughters, they've carried out minor tasks.
Filling in for locked up hubbies
Occasionally, women have even stepped in to run things temporarily when their men have been jailed or murdered.
But a new study shows that women within the mafia are rising through the ranks and becoming bosses in their own right. And it says that the Italian judicial system should start paying closer attention.
Ernesto Savona of the Catholic University of Milan, one of the report’s authors, says criminal organizations are becoming more appealing to women. "Criminal organizations are changing. They’re producing less violence. Less people are killed in Palermo and Columbia and in others in proportion to how many were killed before. They’re transforming the hierarchical organization into a more flexible one. That means you’ll get more women having managerial roles. We call them 'sweet criminal organizations'," he told Deutsche Welle.
From hard crime to financial crime
As underworld activities have shifted to financial crimes, violence has dropped. Organizations have also become less centralized.
"That you find women having managerial roles in small criminal organization shows that it's very flexible and not hierarchical," Savona explains. "Especially juvenile gangs. Sometimes you find a woman who has the leadership in the organization."
The evolution of women in the criminal world is exactly the same as that of women in the business world.
Pierluigi Vigna, who heads up Italy’s national anti-mafia office, says that with politically motivated crimes, women are just as willing to kill as men. Mafia women, however, aren’t as willing when it comes to business. The researchers say that’s because women find murder for profit harder to justify. And their roles reflect this difference in values.
"They’re mainly found in areas that require a certain finesse," Vigna explains, "like money laundering rather than murder."
While there are no statistics on the exact number of women in the Italian mafia, the researchers say that more women in key positions are being arrested. In April, a 28-year-old Sicilian woman was found guilty of 50 percent ownership of a thriving underworld business.
This may not be this kind of emancipation feminists had in mind, but it does show that women in Italy need to be taken seriously in all facets of life.