Gangs are often seen as a problem of boys and men. Historically, communities have focused on men as both perpetrators and victims of gang related crimes, which include assault, kidnapping, extortion, illicit substance and human trafficking, theft, and murder. And to date, the answer has also been a predominantly male approach – police and court systems that focus on penalizing individuals for these crimes.
However, gangs don’t only make boys and men vulnerable; they make communities insecure for girls and women, too. Although the majority of homicide victims and perpetrators are male, there is an alarming trend of girls joining gangs as well as becoming victims of sexual assaults and femicide.
Fed up with the violence and driven by a desire for positive change in their communities, women are taking leadership roles to tackle gang violence and crime. Through youth movements, such as Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia (Youth Movement Against Violence) in Central America, young women are leading efforts and bringing together communities, governments, and youth to form partnerships and find creative solutions.
“I am worried about the alarming situation and of the number of youths that are killed every day, and the impact that the violence has on my family. So I decided to take part in finding a solution,” says Vivien Rueda, one of the founders of Youth Alliance Association in Guatemala City.
The Youth Alliance Association project takes a whole-of-community prevention approach. Through USAID’s outreach centers in high-crime areas, the group helps to provide a safe space for recreational activities and job training for at-risk youth as well as ex-gang members. In order to strengthen a sense of community, the centers are called “Outreach Centers for My Neighborhood,” which is similar to a local, common catch phrase “for my neighbor, for my neighborhood.”
The visibility of youth activism was raised to the national stage in Honduras by Alejandra Hernandez, former head of Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia in Honduras. In addressing the Honduran National Congress, she echoed the frustration of youth, of which 2.3 million are girls: “We are here to say that we are tired of being just observers of the violence in our country, now we want to be actors in the construction of solutions that allow us a safer Honduras.”
Women are unique actors and add value to these crucial conversations. They are instrumental to help achieve peace in their communities by bringing diverse perspectives, mobilize a variety of community actors, and ensure that all citizens have their security concerns heard.