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GENDER DANGER IS IN A POWERFUL ADVOCACY MISSION TO END BREAST IRONING IN CAMEROON

The silence has been broken. What used to be done in the dark has been brought to light. Breast Ironing is loosing its potency as a silent killer. Women and girls are beginning to talk about it in churches, cultural women groups and schools. Gender danger has embarked on an extensive advocacy mission to end breast ironing in Cameroon.
The incidence of Breast ironing in Cameroon is more than I ever imagined. It has left me to think that 1 out every 2 Cameroonian girl has experienced breast ironing. The campaign kicked off in the North West Region of the country about six months ago. For over two months now as we move from one group to another, almost everybody identifies with the practice. Even pupils in Primary School identify with it.
Our first stop was at Christian Women Fellowship (CWF) Ntamulung, Bamenda; A women’s association within the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. At the mention of breast ironing, every woman knew what it was all about. Some confessed that they have been victims and also perpetrators. Interestingly, women did not know that this practice was harmful. To them, they are merely keeping their daughters out of the eyes of sex predators. Not knowing that it is even better for this children to be sexually attractive now, than sexually unresponsive in future.
While at CWF Ntamulung, the medical personnel in our team disclosed the health risks of breast ironing, and behold, mothers wept at their ignorance. They could not imagine that what they see as mere help can adversely affect the lives of their daughters. Some women started telling their stories;
• Some say since they ironed their daughters’ breasts years ago, it has refused to grow again
• Some say that their daughters’ breast has grown extraordinarily big after the ironing
• Some say that their daughters’ breasts have grown in an unimaginable way; one very big and one very small; one growing naturally and the other developing a hole in the middle; some growing in a shrinking manner.
The revelations were enormous. I could not help but weep when these women continued to reveal what they have been doing to their daughters and what they have passed through as victims of this painful and traumatizing act.
Our next stop was at CWF Musang - Bamenda. It is another women’s group of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. At CWF Musang meeting, I cried more than anyone else. In the course of the lectures the women started dishing out the different methods they use in ironing their daughters’ breasts.
• Use of grinding stone that they have heated on fire
• The use of hot banana
• The use of hot broken clay pot
• The use of herbs
• The use of hot cutlasses
And then as one woman mentioned that there is a method where the girl is sent under the bed, and then a hot mortar pestle is used to pound the breast from outside the bed by the mother, this lady left her seat running in the front part of the hall shouting:
“That is me ooo, that is me ooo, that is me when I was a girl ooo, that is what they did to me ooo.”
She fell on the ground and cried the hell out of her. Her name is Beatrice. She then explained her story. She says when her breasts were ironed, it later reshoot and grew extraordinarily big. As her breasts were growing, she learnt to bend her back so as to cover up the big breasts that developed. She never stopped wearing big pullovers just to cover up the breasts. She said she became the center of attraction in her community and unfortunately for her she was nicknamed “Bea Bend Back.” Up till date, some people still call her “Bea bend back.” Mme. Bea revealed that, she has never been comfortable in her body, and this has affected her sexual life. She says she doesn’t respond to sex through breast fondling. To her, her breasts are not a part in the game of sex or foreplay. Mme. Beatrice says that it is the worse experience that she has lived to experience her whole life.
As Beatrice was telling her story, every other person was in pain, some were crying. Beatrice herself felt a bit relieved in the end just for the mere fact that she has finally told her story.
The next group we went to was CWF Ntaghem. Here the story was no different from the other groups. Women cried at the health risks involved in breast ironing. Some said they were victims and others said they were perpetrators.
We then moved on to a traditional group, the Bali Women’s meeting. The women here reacted like the women of the other groups.
One of our last stop so far was at a primary school in Bamenda. At Government Bilingual Primary School GMI Group 1, the children were amazing. More than 90% of the pupils revealed they know about the practice. One of the pupils explained how her breasts were ironed using a grinding stone. Many others said they have witnessed it being done either to their sisters, or to other girls in their community. Teachers testified as victims and as perpetrators. The pupils of this school were taught how to resist breast ironing. They were told to tell their mothers that they should not iron their breasts, no matter what. These children carried placards and sang songs denouncing breast ironing in the campus. They saw genuine reasons to stand against breast ironing.
On my way home when I left the campus of the primary school, I decided to have a random interview with one lady I met on my way to the market (Food Market, Bamenda), where I stopped to pick a few things. Her name is Geneva Ikome. I asked her whether her breasts were ironed or whether she has ever ironed her daughter’s breasts. She laughed and told me she is a victim of breast ironing and a perpetrator too. I was curious, I asked her how many daughters she has and how many of them whose breast she has ironed. She continued laughing, and said she has no daughter. The most obvious question came to mind again “have you been ironing the breasts of other girls in your community?” I asked her. Paradoxically, she said no. I became even more confused.
“Madam, how are you a victim and a perpetrator?” I asked her again.
“I ironed my own breasts when I was in primary school,” she answered.
Wao! I couldn’t stop but ask why she did that. She told me that when she was in primary school, they had a fellow pupil who had very big breasts. Boys in the school were always laughing at that girl and abusing her that “big bobby” (meaning big breasts) in school. So, as girls, she and her five friends went home to her mother’s kitchen one day, they took a grinding stone and heated on fire, and one after the other, the ironed their breasts.
“Behold, our breasts disappeared,” she told me.
Before I could engage in a discussion on the dangers of breast ironing, Geneva told me that she knows how damaging that practice is and she will not dare to do it on any of her girls. I was glad to hear that.
Now, I travelled to visit my best friend. Together we are Masters Student of the Department of Women and Gender Studies in the University of Buea Cameroon. When I arrived, one of our first discussions was on breast ironing. I started telling her about the breast ironing campaign going on in the North West Region of Cameroon by Chi Yvonne Leina. I told her about how she too needed to become an advocate against breast ironing in her own little way. All the while as I spoke, she had her head buried to her plate of rice. I asked her why she wasn’t responding to all that I was saying.
“Nakinti, do you know that I ironed my daughter’s breast when she was in primary 5,” she said crying.
She told me her daughter was developing into a woman too early and she taught it was wise for her to stop it somehow. So she went ahead to iron her breasts and the breasts disappeared. Today, her daughter is just 16 but having very big breasts.
“You just made me to understand why my daughter’s breasts have grown to be extraordinarily big,” she says. “May God forgive me for doing that to my daughter.”
My friend told me she spends most of her time looking for the strongest breast wears for her daughter in the market. That is because her daughter herself feels uncomfortable about her own breasts. Sometimes, her daughter puts on 2 breast wears just in a bid to hide the size of her breasts. She feels bad that such a thing is happening to her daughter and her.
The campaign against breast ironing has entered another gear now. On the 6th of December 2012, Gender Danger is organizing a breast ironing workshop to train women who will become community actors/advocates against breast ironing. This campaign is done in partnership with the Regional Delegation of Women’s Empowerment and the Family North West. It is going to train about 40 community actors. Such capacity building workshops will be done in different regions of Cameroon in a bid to fight this practice.

Speaking with Chi Yvonne the initiator of Gender Danger who is so passionate about this work, she says "Gender Danger is also planning to initiate a media campaign and free screening and treatment of breast related diseases in hot spots of breast ironing .Also we are planning a sensitization march against breast ironing early next year.We are also looking for financial support to help intensify the work.My heart cry is for the restoration of the self esteem of these young girls and women.Mothers should begin talking to their daughters about sex and not destroying their bodies".

The fight against breast ironing in Cameroon is on; please join us to say NO TO BREAST IRONING.

For details on how to help please check www.genderdanger.com and http://www.indiegogo.com/GenderDanger/x/1807594

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

Jensine's picture

The fight is ON!

Nankinti - These stories bring tears to my eyes, especially the transformation for the women when their realize their power to stop the practice. Clearly you have tapped into a world of pain and suffering that is now being released like a volcano of change. Keep going my sister!! You are having the power to join hands and change the future of Cameroon with legions of liberated women - body and sou!!

Love,
Jensine

Jensine Larsen
World Pulse

Leina's picture

Dear Nakinti, Thank you for

Dear Nakinti,
Thank you for the hard work and for showing the world the power of the sisterhood we share on World Pulse!Your interest in this work has touched a deep part of my heart!Your presence on the field has been so influential and your devotedness to this cause exudes the radiance of a true leader that you are!You are a shinning example for us all.
Life would never be the same for many of these women.Their garments of sorrow and shame are being replaced with dignity, thanks to your commitment.
May God bless you!
Leina

Dellynchang's picture

Hello Nakinti, I am so glad

Hello Nakinti,
I am so glad to fall on this story because I am a victim of this thing.I am happy that this work is being done.I feel relieved .I don`t know why no one has been saying anything about this painful practice for years in Cameroon.Thank God for all of you who are doing this work.

Nakinti's picture

Thank you Jensine!

Hello Jensine,
As those stories bring tears to your eyes, so does it bring a pool of water in my eyes every minute i think of those women whom together with their daughters have suffered under the shadows of ignorance. At the same time, it gives me great joy to see women who are determine to spark off automatic change - to stop breast ironing. I have vowed not to stop until i reach more than 70% of the Cameroonian women with this powerful message brought to light by Chi Yvonne Leina. May God bless Yvonne for bringing to light what used to be an issue in the dark. Our race is on. I am anxiously looking forward to Thursday the 06th of December where we will be training women leaders of the North West Region on how to go about as ambassadors of change, change against the painful practice of breast ironing...I foresee a wonderful day.
Jensine dear, thanks for reading my post, and thanks even more for dropping such touching comments. I will not fail to use the power of World Pulse to inspire change in my community. Stay blessed.
Lots of Love.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

Nakinti's picture

Dear Yvonne!

Yvonne Dear,
It should be the other way round, I should be thanking you for being the voice of thousands of voiceless women who have suffered breast ironing in Cameroon. You are such a genius. It takes a wide thinking sense to discover such a covered topic. My dear, I look forward to that day when I will get to meet you in person, so that I can tell you face to face how wonderful a woman you are. Continue the good work, and I will not fail to put the final nail here in Cameroon...trust me. Keep up dear.
A million kisses.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

My dear Nchang,
I am so sorry to hear that you are victim of this practice.
Never mind dear, mummy did not hate you ok, she only thought she was doing you a favour.
That is why we are spreading this message....so that mothers will come to understand that breast ironing is very bad.
I wish you could join us in this fight so that we stamp this practice out bit by bit.
May God relieve you of the memories of that.
I love, and your mummy loved you so much.
Lots of Love.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

CoachMarcie's picture

What a story!

I am left speechless by the whole idea of Breast Ironing along with being sick to my stomach. I had no idea about this happening and this is tragic to say the least and I'm a breast cancer survivor as well. What you're doing is amazing and telling this story is so important. I think the only way to help is to spread the word. But, for sure this is a story I will never forget and I'm sorry you and other girls have to be part of such a cruel act. Your a brave women and thank you for sharing such a personal story.

Best,
Marcie

Nakinti's picture

Thank you!

Coachmarcie dear,
Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my post.
Breast cancer survivor! Thank heavens you survived dear...I am so happy.
Breast ironing is still ongoing in Cameroon, but we will do our best to put an end to it.
The fight is ON.
Thanks a lot dear,
Bless you.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

amymorros's picture

Great advocate for change

WOW! I have never heard of this before and I thank you for sharing these stories. This is a campaign with clear goals and a great strategy to achieve them. Reading your article I was both deeply pained by the very fact that this is occuring but so grateful that the word is spreading that women are starting to say no to this practice.
I know that you will keep up your advocacy and I wish you well.

Amy
@amyinstl

Nakinti's picture

It is happening dear!

Amymorros dear,
Breast ironing is happening right here in Cameroon.
We are doing our best to spread the word, thank heavens the women are ready to put an end to it.
Thanks for reading my post amy, I wish you a happy New year.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

topieopolot's picture

hello

hello nakinti it is good that these women now have you to open their minds to all these risks..
well i understand the act was to protect children but for God help us, i can not imagine the pain all victims of this act must have gone through! and what of the experience of the much older ones, cld they not use this as turning point..you know while i was reading you article i kept touching my boobs just to ensure not pistol was directed its way and subconsciously trying to protect them from any kind of pain! knowing that many have gone through it and others to still go through it? jeeze,
i wish you all the best and may your efforts bare fruit at the fasted rate ever... i hope you have so many more groups going a round?
thank you ,bye and merry xmass in cameroon

Nakinti's picture

Thanks topieoplot

Dear topi,
We are doing everything within our power to ensure that this practice comes to an end.
It has been a silent killer for a very long time now.
Thanks dear for stopping by and reading my article.
Remain Blessed.
Happy New Year.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

Wendyiscalm's picture

Breat ironing

Dear Nakinti,

Happened upon your breast ironing article today and was shocked. I never heard of that before. Terrible. Thank you for the article which must have been difficult for you to relive and write.

Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Nakinti's picture

Long time Wendy!

Hello Wendy,
Breast ironing is a reality in Cameroon.
We are doing our best to see to it that it comes to an end.
I sent you a mail to check on you Wendy....did you see it?
I was checking because it has been long I have not heard from you.
I am glad to hear you again.....HAPPY NEW YEAR DEAR!

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

Wendyiscalm's picture

THANKS

Thanks for thinking of me and mailing me. It is heartfelt to know you would do this. I got a disease in Africa in November and had to stay there in their horrible clinic, then had to leave everything there, suitcases, camera, computer, everything because I could not lift even a feather. I came home but was too sick to call a doctor even for a week, but I am fine now.

Thanks for caring.

Also, I hope 2013 is great for both of us . . . and for everyone else, of course. I hope Obama is tougher in his second term as I think a lot of people/countries are dependent on what he does.

Take care.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Wendyiscalm's picture

OOPS

Nakinti,

I never got your mail or I would have answered it, of course.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

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