CAMEROON: Music Breaks the Silence About Breast Ironing
Q&A with Chi Yvonne Leina
How a song is aiding the fight against a harmful practice that affects four million girls in Cameroon.
“Teach the girl child how to use her mind, not destroy her body.” This isn’t just an empowering message for girls; it’s also a lyric of a catchy song by Cameroonian artist Raminas King. The song is part of a campaign by Gender Danger to end breast ironing, a widespread practice in Cameroon where mothers iron their daughters’ breasts with hot stones and other kitchen utensils in an attempt to delay puberty and halt their daughters’ physical development.
According to statistics from the German Society for International Cooperation, one out of every four girls in Cameroon has been affected by breast ironing. Gender Danger founder Chi Yvonne Leina is hopeful that these numbers have actually been decreasing in recent years due to her organization’s efforts. Gender Danger’s community outreach has already resulted in over 20,000 women pledging to resist the practice.
Leina, who herself stood up to her grandmother’s attempts to iron her breasts as a young girl, knows how powerful youth voices can be. World Pulse spoke with Leina to learn more about how Gender Danger is using music to empower girls in Cameroon and protect them from harm.
Can you begin by explaining breast ironing and why it is happening in Cameroon?
Mothers iron their daughters’ breasts to prevent the girls from early marriage, early pregnancy and rape. Unfortunately breast ironing is not a solution because it causes more problems than it can prevent. The process is very painful. Mothers use stones or tools heated over the fire to press, pound, and massage the breasts of these young girls. There are many dangerous physical and psychological side effects. Sadly, many girls who have endured this practice stop loving their own bodies.
Why did you decide to incorporate music into the campaign?
Breast ironing is a silent danger in Cameroon. If you are not a victim, you don’t know about it because it is not spoken about in public spaces. This song is an opportunity to change that.
This song is saying education yes, mutilation no. Give the African girl child her pride. The music entertains and at the same time informs and educates.
We use music in our campaign because we are targeting youth. And the best way to get youths’ attention is through music, through art, through song, through dance. If you listen to the song, it has components of African melody and rap.
It’s also a way of making the girls understand that they can speak out about the issue. This shouldn’t be a taboo topic. We want girls to be able to talk about breast ironing with their peers, to discuss solutions and how to avoid it. We are breaking the silence in a very loud way with music!
What do you hope a young girl in Cameroon will feel as she listens to this song?
If I am a 14-year-old girl listening to the song, first I am going to know that I am from an important component of society that someone could be singing about a young girl like me. And then, if I am a potential victim, I will know that anyone violating my body is wrong and needs to stop. And if I am already a victim of breast ironing, I won’t feel embarrassed to talk about it. I will work to stop it from happening to others. . . .