Women are playing a crucial support role in Bermuda’s growing gang structure.

With the effort to stem the violence focused firmly on the problems of young black males, their female counterparts have gone largely ignored.

There have been relatively few cases of women being directly implicated in shootings or similar offences. But police and community figures say they are playing an important background role.

At least two of the 10 murders since December last year are said to have been directly linked to conflicts over women. In a series of recent cases, women have been used as mules to bring drugs into the country.

And police suspect women are heavily involved in hiding or transporting firearms for their gangster boyfriends.

“Putting the focus solely on young black males is a big mistake,” women’s advocate Sheelagh Cooper told a Parliamentary hearing yesterday.

“Their behaviour is a symptom, not the disease itself. What is not widely recognized is the recent trend of their female counterparts toward gang-related activities.”

Pastor Leroy Bean, of gang intervention group CARTEL, said most of the island’s gangs had female members.

He said many of the women involved came from the same neighbourhood families and went through the same issues as the men.

“They play a major role in their own group system — whether it is rivalry with someone from a different area or sometimes acknowledging themselves as part of a certain gang.”

The practical role of women in gangs is believed to be limited.

Though anecdotal evidence suggests incidents of violence involving women are on the rise, police believe they are still largely limited to supporting roles.

Assistant Commissioner Dave Mirfield said: “The role played by females in gangs can be significant in the overall structure of a gang; this can vary from something as simple as keeping watch, providing an alibi, to more significant involvement in a criminal enterprise, such as disposing of clothing, carrying or removing weapons or drugs on behalf of gang members.

“However, their part should not be overlooked, and we will always seek a prosecution for any offences identified.”

 Others like the Bermuda Democratic Alliance’s Kristin White believe women play a more fundamental role in fuelling gang culture simply by being attracted to ‘bad guys’.

Ms White, who is calling for more attention to be diverted to the issues facing young women, said something as seemingly innocuous as picking the wrong man could lead women from all backgrounds into dangerous lifestyles.

She said women of all ages were tied up in the fabric of gang culture.

“Consider this: of our young men that have been gunned down in gang warfare, how many had girlfriends or wives? How many had mothers? How many had sisters, nieces and goddaughters? How many have aunties, nanas and godmas? And now… how many leave behind young daughters to grieve?

 “To put it simply, how many men engaged in gangs, whether they are 42 or Parkside, go home to a woman? All of them,” she wrote in an opinion column on the party’s website last month.

She also believes women have the power to turn the tide: “Imagine if every woman stood up now and said, ‘I will not have sex with a man in a gang’. If every mother of a young man said, ‘I will not lie to protect my son from the police’. ‘I will not justify his behaviours by saying, he isn’t in a gang – he just hangs with his friends’.”

Ms. White, who works with teenagers at Raleigh International and became a mother herself at 16, said young women needed more guidance to make the right choices.

She said many women, from respectable backgrounds, had found themselves in bad relationships and destructive lifestyles because of poor decisions they made as hormonal teenagers.

“If you end up having a baby with someone it extends your relationship with that person. So many women, including me, get into that situation. We don’t always choose the nice boy it’s the rebels we go for.

“I’m lucky to be where I am having had a baby at 16.

“But I have a lot of friends in bad situations saying why did I go for the bad guy?” she said.

Pastor Bean agrees that women do contribute to a general glorification of gang culture.

“A lot of gang culture is image driven. That is how it started out. Now it has moved into a zone that none of them were anticipating – the image has become reality.”

He said his group did not discriminate based on gender and where there to help anyone involved in gangs get out of the lifestyle.

“Many of these young women have not had a decent father, many of them have been through unfortunate events – the spiritual, moral and ethical structure is not there. It’s the same issue – the break down of the care structure.”

Ms White believes more attention needs to be focused directly on women to bridge that gap.

She said the Mincy Report as well as funding for football and cricket had diverted plenty of resources towards creating positive alternatives for boys but programmes like netball and majorettes were still struggling to get support.

The BDA would like to see an ‘empowerment programme’ for women, parenting programmes directed at single moms and increased support for youth centres that promote activities for girls.

Sheelagh Cooper, of the Coaltion for the Protection of Children, say we must address the  economic conditions of needy young mothers, who are “equally damaged by the conditions boys have had to endure over the last 15 to 25 years. While these young men sell drugs and shoot each other, their sisters are prostituting themselves, having babies and looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places.”

One woman's lucky escape from the gang life

A stark warning on poverty