KINGSTON, March 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Be tough. Don't have feelings. Be a man and fight!
Such are the messages drilled into Jamaican boys at an early age that have helped push the island nation's murder rate up 20 percent last year to a five-year high, according to a campaign trying to stem the violence by fighting gender stereotypes.
The campaign, the Next GENDERation Initiative, aims to reach and teach young people living in the nation that is gripped by violent crime that has frustrated its economic development.
Nearly everyone charged with violent crime in Jamaica is male, one in five women have experienced violence by a partner and one in three children has witnessed severe acts of brutality, the campaign says.
Hoping to dispel gender stereotypes that propel and perpetuate violence, the partnership of the government, international organizations and community groups has assembled resources with such items as educational videos and role-play scripts for common scenarios.
The materials were released this year to be integrated into the curriculum of the nation's secondary schools, while an accompanying public education campaign uses social media, with some 4,500 followers on Facebook.
One role-play script for students depicts two brothers arguing about joining a gang, while in another, a young woman confronts her mother, who does not want to talk about her daughter's rape by a cousin.
"For many in Jamaica, to be a man means to be dominant, tough, never back down. And for women, they need to know their place, watching their looks and serving their men," says the narrator in one campaign video.
Randy McLaren, a musician, poet and actor who heads up Articulet Edutainment, a company that helped craft some of the campaign materials, said the aim was to help young people open up.
That is particularly true for boys and young men who feel like they need to bottle up their feelings or act out, he said.
"They need safe places where they can talk and address these things without being ridiculed or feeling like less of a man. All the gains that we have had in terms of empowering our young females would amount to nothing, almost," he said.
From a very young age, McLaren said, boys learn to "man up," get physical and fight.
Many Jamaican boys take those messages to heart, which can prove to be fatal when they make the fateful decision to prove their worth by joining a gang.
Gang-related activities are reported to be the primary motive for three-quarters of all the murders in Jamaica, according to Next GENDERation.
The machismo that fuels gang violence also feeds a scourge of violence against women.
Ideas that women should be subservient, that a woman who suffers domestic abuse deserves it or that a rape victim is to be blamed are prevalent.
Catcalling and unwanted advances, both commonplace, contribute to a culture that sweeps graver sexual violence under the rug, said Cordia Chambers-Johnson, a gender specialist with Jamaica's Citizen Security and Justice Program.
One in eight Jamaican women has been forced to have sex against her will at some point, and seven out of eight knew their attacker, according to the Next GENDERation campaign.
Half of the nation's rape victims report that the attack occurred before they were 10 years old, and 75 percent said it happened before they were 30.
Perpetrators of sexual violence are often young also, with 57 percent of men arrested for rape under age 30 and most between 16 and 20, according to 2007 statistics, the most recent available.
Part of the problem is that both Jamaican men and women either condone or do not speak out about violence and sexual assault against women, Chambers-Johnson said.
She said she has facilitated role playing about domestic violence that has sparked conversation and change attitudes.
But the battle is just as much about seemingly minor, everyday issues such as making it safe for women to walk down a street without being harassed, Chambers-Johnson said.
"These little things tend to spiral," she said. (Reporting by Rebekah Kebede, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)