CAMEROON: Music Breaks the Silence About Breast Ironing
What messages about girls are most common in Cameroonian music?
We have all kinds of songs describing the hips of women, but we hardly hear songs that uplift the image of women. Hearing this music, a girl grows up seeing herself as a sex object. She doesn’t view her body as something that is worth dignifying or preserving for her own benefit first, before thinking of the next person.
Youth always, always, always emulate what they see in the media. What do girls hear? That their bodies are sexual tools. It’s a messed up environment and we need to go back to the drawing board to realize where this problem is coming from.
In yesteryears we used to hear music that was didactic, but nowadays there is usually no positive message sent out to girls.
So even as you are working to end the harmful tradition of breast ironing, you are actually relying on positive cultural traditions?
Yes. In our communities we had many dirges for funerals that convey messages in our local languages. It has always been our tradition to use music to convey messages. But with the influx of different cultures and the global trend of youth trying to Americanize everything they do, most of the music now is just for excitement. It is not necessarily propagating a particular message.
We used to sing songs like Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Mbarga, which told us sweet things about the mother. That song was saying something positive. Nowadays we don’t get so many musicians coming up with these ideas. It costs us nothing to nurture a new generation of artists who produce music that elevates the image of the girl child and the woman.
Tradition can be positive. Through Gender Danger’s work in the Northwest region of Cameroon, we’ve been able to get to the core of tradition, the heart of tradition. We’ve now reached the matriarchs, the indigenous grandmothers of Cameroon, called the Takembeng: a powerful group of women who can stop any negative thing if they want to. Yesterday representatives of Gender Danger met with them and convinced these women to act to prevent tradition from being used as an excuse for violence against women.
What’s next for this movement?
Because of this song, Raminas King was invited to a popular television show in Cameroon. It will take more effort however to make the song infiltrate. In the near future, we want more young girls to be able to hear and grasp the message in the song. We are now also using writing to reach secondary school girls because we believe that we can tickle their imagination with creative writing and help to break them of those silent stories. Through our outreach we are turning victims into trainers. With all of these efforts, gradually we are going to get there. We will see a better Cameroon for young girls and a better Cameroon for women.