Media Center

Press Release

OAS Sheds Lights on the Growing Incidence of Women in Prison in the Americas for Drug-Related Crimes

  June 3, 2013

The Organization of American States (OAS) has expressed concern at the growing incidence of women being arrested for drug-related crimes in the Americas.

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza noted in opening a roundtable on “Women, drugs, and human rights in the Americas,” on Monday, that “the issue of drugs has a strong gender dimension that is still very visible in the investigations and reports produced to date.”

He said “media coverage and what little information we have do suggest that women’s involvement in marketing drugs has increased significantly.”

A joint initiative of the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), the roundtable was held at the Spanish Cooperation Training Center in La Antigua, Guatemala, ahead of Tuesday’s formal opening of the forty-third regular session of the OAS General Assembly.

The OAS leader argued that the fact that poverty leads women to consider selling and trafficking in drugs as an option for providing for their families is nothing new in the region. But, he warned, recent years have seen a significant rise in drug-related crimes in which women, girls, and adolescents are taking a more active and lead role.

“In fact, a higher proportion of women than men are arrested for drug-related crimes. In Mexico, for example, 80 percent of the female prison population is there for drug-related crimes, compared to 57 percent for men. In Argentina, between 80 and 87 percent of female inmates are in prison for drug crimes. In Quito, Ecuador, 80 percent of the female inmates are serving drug trafficking-related sentences. And in Iquique, Chile, 80 percent of the women in prison are there for drug-related crimes,” Secretary General Insulza explained.

In her presentation, Guatemala’s Vice President, Roxana Baldetti, described most women in prison as “young, poor, illiterate, single mothers,” who are often arrested for trying to take drugs into prisons for their partners. Furthermore, she noted, while 48 percent of women in prison in Latin America are there for drug-related crimes, the figure for men is just 15 percent.

Praising the recently-released Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, prepared under the direction of the OAS Secretary General, Vice President Baldetti proposed the establishment of an OAS body to address the needs of this segment of the female population, to prevent them from being used by gangs that control the illegal drug trade. The Vice President said the entity she was proposing should develop a plan with social policies that take into account aspects related to public health and economic and environmental policies.
President of the Commission of Women, Maureen Clarke, said that an assessment of the problem of women and drugs in the Americas was in the making. Recalling that the CIM began working on the issue in late 2012, Clarke noted that the CIM was conducting a two-stage analysis of the issue: “The first is a compilation of existing literature, and the second phase is to collect information from the OAS member states, to which end the CIM has sent questionnaires to a number of national women’s affairs agencies, to national security authorities, and to national drug authorities.” She said the CIM hoped to have this assessment ready in the second half of 2013.

Clarke also referred in her remarks to social problems stemming from the incarceration of women, saying that when a man is incarcerated, the family generally remains together, but when a woman is sent to jail the family usually falls apart. She therefore called for “a more comprehensive perspective on what incarcerating women entails.”

For her part, the Executive Secretary of the CIM, Carmen Moreno, underscored the lack of information on the subject, the results of which is that the media have become the primary source of information. “Generally speaking, whether for men or women, we know very little about the people involved in the drug problem. As in other areas, we understand even less about the involvement of women and we tend to interpret it through assumptions and stereotypes that complicate proper understanding of the social, economic, and cultural factors and have an adverse effect on women in terms of assigning them stigmatized roles.” Ambassador Moreno revealed that an investigation conducted by the CIM in the countries of the region argues that in most cases women arrested for drug problems are arrested for nonviolent crimes.

Meanwhile, the Permanent Observer of Spain to the OAS, Javier Hevia, said that “it is important to find a gender perspective in anti-drug policies,” adding that in Spain, “of the 6,500 female inmates, 45 percent are arrested because of drug problems.” Ambassador Hevia, who hosted the event, stated that “promoting women’s rights and gender equality is a key development objective of the Master Plan for Spanish Cooperation 2013-2016.”

Several permanent representatives to the OAS and a number of women’s rights activists took part in the roundtable, which also included an interdisciplinary debate on “Women, drugs, and human rights in the Americas.”

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-219/13