BREAST ironing, an old-age practice that is likened to the widely condemned practice of female genital mutilation, is widespread in many parts of West and Central Africa, including Cameroon, Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Conakry among others.
Breast ironing is aimed to flatten the breast tissue of pubescent girls. The procedure is carried out specifically to make young women less attractive to men and boys. According to Wikipedia, the most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle normally used for pounding tubers; other tools used include bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles, spatulas, and hammers heated over coals.
According to the UN, approximately 3.8 million or 1 in 4 girls in Cameroon alone, face the risk of having their breasts ironed often by their mothers. Unfortunately, many governments in the region do not have any policies or programmes in place to stem this heinous practices aimed at reversing pubescent growth. The onus rests on the government to empower women and make them more enlightened
The practice involves the use of hard or heated objects or other substances to try to stunt breast growth in girls. It is estimated that many women in the ten regions of Cameroon have been subjected to breast ironing. And it’s done for supposedly good reasons: to suppress outward signs of sexuality.
Most parents fear that their daughters’ budding breasts can potentially expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and even rape, inhibit their daughters’ studies or even stunt their growth. Other reasons including protecting girl children from HIV infection and pregnancy.
“My mother took a pestle, she warmed it well in the fire and then she used it to pound my breasts while I was lying down. She took the back of a coconut, warmed it in the fire and used it to iron the breasts,” a girl Geraldin Sirri recounted her breast ironing ideal to BBC.
“I was crying and trembling to escape but there was no way.
Hence, to forestall any potential of rape, parents engage in the practice of breast ironing. Surprisingly, the girls on whom breast ironing is practiced think that it is good to them. But the side-affects are quite drastic, including severe pain and abscesses, infections, breast cancer, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.
“If society has been silent about it up to now it is because, like other harmful practices done to women such as female genital mutilation, it was thought to be good for the girl,” Reuters quoted Flavien Ndonko, an anthropologist and German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) official.
According to a new report by CurrentTV, the practice of breast ironing is on the rise in Cameroon. It is regarded as a way to curb the country’s staggering number of teenage pregnancies. In 2006, the GTZ surveyed 5,651 girls and women, between ages 10 and 22, and found that 24 percent had experienced breast ironing.
“It’s body mutilation and against women’s rights,” the Washington Post quoted Mr. Ndoko. “They do it so girls do not become pregnant, but girls still get pregnant, even earlier than they thought. Not only breasts attract young men. What will they do? Cut lips, eyes, nose?”
It appears that sexuality education in many of the countries where the practice of “breast ironing” is prevalent is urgently required to stem some of the factors that force women to put their girl children under so much pain.
Of course, efforts are underway to educate people and campaign against the practice of breast ironing. But until the woman’s position in the societies where breast ironing is upgraded we will continue to hear stories of this practice.