While we know about the infamous Sicilian Mafia, or Cosa Nostra, from movies like The Godfather, another even more powerful Italian Mafia has recently come to light: the ‘Ndrangheta. Established in the late 1800s by a group of 140 families in the mountainous region of Calabria, the secret to this Mafia’s success is secrecy itself.
However, when a small group of women from the crime syndicate did the unthinkable—agreed to testify against their own—the group was revealed for the first time to the general public. In The Good Mothers: The True Story of the Women Who Took on the World’s Most Powerful Mafia, journalist Alex Perry chronicles the criminal organization and the brave women who dared to expose it.
The ‘Ndrangheta is highly influential across the globe and part of practically all our lives, whether we know it or not. We work in their businesses, eat in their restaurants, and even elect their candidates.
They are responsible for controlling an estimated 70% of the cocaine industry in Europe. Among other things, they have brokered countless global arms deals and even dumped nuclear waste in the Red Sea. Their criminal activity as a whole generates $50-100 billion each year for the group.
The ‘Ndrangheta relies on a brutal family structure and a strict code of silence, where loyalty is everything. The criminal society also has a fierce tradition of misogyny. Men are raised to manage their lucrative criminal enterprises and to be ‘enforcers’—and often killers.
Women, on the other hand, are treated as second-class citizens in the world of organized crime. They are more or less confined to the home and married off at a young age as a way of building strategic alliances. Any misbehavior or unfaithfulness from the women of the group results in severe beatings or even death.
And still, a few courageous ‘Ndrangheta women—who Perry calls ‘The Good Mothers’—turned against their own. When the first agreed to work with prosecutors in 2009, she was promptly murdered. But prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti recognized that the organization’s abuse of its women could be her greatest asset.
When Cerreti approached two more ‘Ndrangheta women, she acknowledged their suffering and promised them and their children a new future. The abused women agreed to work with prosecutors and dozens of ‘Ndrangheta members were put behind bars.
Yet, of the three ‘Good Mothers,’ only one remains—the other two killed by their own families. And while the feminist tale of these brave women had a significant impact, the ‘Ndrangheta is still alive and well today.
Perry says they are hidden in plain sight, embedded in every major financial market by way of money laundering operations. You could very well be doing business with them the next time you make a transaction.
For a copy of Perry’s book and further information, check out the links below.
- Alex Perry, author of The Good Mothers: The True Story of the Women Who Took on the World’s Most Powerful Mafia.