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ABOUT BREAST IRONING

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Tools Used For Breast Ironing

ABOUT BREAST IRONING

When I just got in to secondary school that was in the early eighties I heard some few girls talking about using objects like a wooden spatula, placed over hot flames to massage their breast to prevent them from growing big. I never took them seriously; I guess I considered it a faux pas, not until recently that the prevalence of breast ironing in Cameroon has become a lime- light issue due to the fact that it is a harmful ritual imposed on the nation’s pre-pubescent women. Local non- governmental Organisations are trying to call attention to this practice and stop it.

Breast ironing, known as a form of mutilation is another weird practiced whereby pubescent girls breasts are flatten. This involves pounding and massaging the developing breasts of young girls from about eight years with hot objects to try to make them disappear.

The objects used are wooden tools like pestles and spatulas, grinding stone, oranges, banana, coconut shells and belts. These heated objects and breast band are used to press or beat down the forming breasts.

The practice performed usually by mothers chiefly in urban areas than villages is believed to be an efficient means of delaying pregnancy; by “removing” signs of puberty, these girls are thought to no-longer appear sexually attractive to men. Hence, it helps prevent rape, early marriage and some mothers are equally worried that their daughters’ budding breast would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment.

While there is little research on the health effects of the practice, it is considered that the practice can cause tissue damage in addition to the pain of the ironing process. Other possible side effects include breast infections, malformed breast and the possible complete eradication of one or two breast. Even so, the practice can inhibit or prevent successful breast feeding.

According to a BBC report of June 23, 2006 titled – Cameroon Girls Battle ‘Breast Ironing’ by Randy Joe Sa’ah, statistic show that 26% of Cameroonian girls at puberty undergo it, as many mothers believe it protects their daughters from the sexual advances of boys and men who think children are ripe for sex once their breasts begin to grow. The most widely used instrument to flatten the breast is a wooden pestle, used for pounding tubers in the kitchen. Heated bananas and coconut shells are also used.

Many mothers have no regrets about ironing their daughter's breasts. "Breast ironing is not a new thing. Some women hold they are happy they protected their daughters. To them they could not stand the thought of boys spoiling her with sex before she completed school," one woman explained. "Unfortunately, television is encouraging all sorts of sexual immorality in our children."

Another report by CRIN – Children’s Right Information Network of July 13, 2006 captioned – Millions of Cameroonian Girls Suffer ‘breast ironing’ - “Breast ironing” – the use of hard or heated objects or other substances to try to stunt breast growth in girls – is a traditional practice in West Africa, expert say. A new survey has revealed it is shockingly widespread in Cameroon, where one in four teenagers is subjected to the traumatic process relatives, often hoping to lessen their sexual attractiveness.

Breast ironing is an age-old practice in Cameroon, as well as in many other countries in West and Central Africa, including Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea – Conakry, just to name a few, “ said Flavien Ndonko, an Anthropologist and local representative of German Development Agency GTZ, which sponsored the survey.
“If society has been silent about it up to now is because, like other harmful practices done to women such as female genital mutilation, it was thought to be good for the girl” said Ndonko. “Even the victims themselves thought it was good for them.”

However, the practice has many side effects, including severe pain and abscesses, infections, breast cancer, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.

The survey of more than 5,000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 from throughout Cameroon, published last month, estimated that 4 million women in the central African country have suffered the process.
Another report captioned - Women in Africa Bear a Painful Tradition by Roxy Varza, Assistant Editor states that the practice, which was initially thought to improve a mother’s breast-milk, is now inflicted upon 24% of all Cameroonian women as young as the age of nine. While the practice is commonly performed by family members, 58% of the time by the mother, these young and naïve girls buy into its reasoning and often continue inflicting the practice upon their own bodies.

Aside from breast ironing being extremely painful, there are a serious number of physical and mental health complications that can ensue: the most serious include an elevated cancer risk, the inability to produce breast-milk, and psychological problems; many girls grow so fearful of their families that they flee their homes. If pounding is involved, related heart problems can also ensue. Despite the 42% of women touched by this practice who believe their breasts to have developed normally, a good 18% believe their breasts to have become prematurely “saggy” or deformed. Others suffer from infections, cysts, or lesions, which often lead to cancer as early as the age of 25.

Breast ironing affects women in all 10 of Cameroon’s provinces, crossing ethnic and religious boundaries. The practice is most prevalent in the Littoral province (53%), which houses Cameroon’s largest city of Douala; numbers are generally higher in urban areas, where sexual advances are more common. Possibly due to the differences in attire, breast ironing is less common in the nation’s north (7%), where the population is primarily Muslim. However, regardless of location, religion, or ethnicity, the risk of undergoing breast ironing doubles amongst girls who show signs of puberty before the age of nine.

Unlike other many other African nations, Cameroon enjoys general political stability, has a high-ranking educational system and one of the highest literacy rates in Africa (79% as of 2003). While teen pregnancy rates have declined since 1996, with 60% of all teens experiencing one or more pregnancies, to 20% in 2003, numbers are still high and have obviously not been reduced by the breast ironing. The rationale behind breast ironing, which is to protect young girls from sexual advances, conflicts with the reality that these girls can still become pregnant. The 5,661 women between the ages of 9 and 82, who were touched by breast ironing in 2005, sheds light upon a desperate need for sex education in a country where the topic is still very taboo.

Despite the problems with breast ironing, it has not yet been banned by authorities. While victims do have protection under law, very few cases are taken to court. If it is concluded that damage has been done to the victim, the responsible party can face up to 3 years in prison. Victims, however, are often too young and very unlikely to report their family members.

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Comments

justina's picture

oh, my god

oh, it is such a shame how women all over the word have to suffer. i don't even know hwo to think about this. i need to learn the genesis of all these. this is scary.

i have heard a whole lot of harmful cultural practices including the one i think is the most harmful; genital mutilation, but this is too harmful. i do not understand whether it is men or women who do not want to let nature be nature.

i think people really need sexual health as well as reproductive health education. there is no way we can battle with the biological make up of a person without hurting the person. i feel really sory for the girls in cameroon and any other country, that had to undergo this, and i think, alongside with health and rights' education, people commiting these actions should not be punished to a few years in prison. i think they deserve tough punishment.

i thank you very much Enie for the information.

feminist is fun!

ENIE NDOH CECILE's picture

Scary

Justina it is really scary what women and girls go through from the hands of their fellow women folk.
You are right the culprits of this act deserve a tougher punishment but mark you the act is performed by mothers on their daughters, how many girls would denounce their mom especailly if she is a single mom?, again the act is perform on girls about 8 years still getting to their teanage age, how many of them would understand they are manhandled and so should seek legal intervention?. This are the difficulties.

As it is, Activist just have to educate the women of the ills and it seems it is going to be difficult a difficult task for some women see nothing wrong, they claim they passed through thesame treatment. However some have equally realise it has not achieved its intended goal.

Thanks for your comment

jadefrank's picture

New to me

Hi Enie,

Your reporting and the subjects you cover are always interesting. This article is especially interesting to me because breast ironing is a phenomenon that I was unfamiliar with. I had no idea that this is happening. It is so sad that young women have to go through such mutilation. To be ashamed of their femininity, rather than embrace their body changes in celebration of womenhood. It is a shame that mothers feel they must protect their daughters in this way. It is an outrage that rape is such a danger that they feel they have to turn to this type of abuse. Thank you for educating us on the issue of breast ironing.

Warm regards,
Jade

ENIE NDOH CECILE's picture

Thanks

Hi Jade,

My sincere regards and thanks for the kind words.
Your point of view is absolutely right. It is really a sad situation for mothers to inflict torture on their daughters in the guise of protecting them.
Lets just hope and pray the awareness process would be fruitful and what bits me most is that the act is conducted more by women in urban areas, who are suppose to be more expose to civilization.

Cheers

I don't know, it is a terrible injustice that this happens but I can almost understand the viewpoint. I mean, if given a choice between this or becoming an object for sex/rape it is almost understandable why this happens. It is a horrible thing and I believe caused by a real "corruption" occurring.

We really need to figure out how to reach the mind of men and bring decency back to them. Somehow explain that disrespecting even one woman or girl causes the whole village to be shamed. That as men if they want real pride and power and not the corrupted version that has come about over time that they need to change themselves as we are struggling to change.

We must somehow enlighten the whole culture at once but in such a way that it does not sound as if we are saying they themselves are corrupt. Finding a way to explain it as some sort of mistranslation like "I ate fish" for "I hate fish" and a sly someone who sells fish encouraging this to happen. Once they understand how it happened that over time it became a cultural norm when it was started by one person explaining they did not like fish. I know that is a bad example but hopefully it gives some idea of what I mean.

I am always glad to read the posts on here since there is so much happening all over the world that many of us are not aware of. It helps bring hope I think to know that everywhere around the world there are people who do truly care about you and what happens to you.

ENIE NDOH CECILE's picture

You have a point

Actually Maria some men can be so mean and lack the slightest decency.
But then how successful have these women's effort been to put the men off. Even the most deformed woman will always attract a man.
The best way to guide your daughter is to inform them about the intricacies of the society and how they can overcome them and this should be done as early as possible.

I have four daughters and a son who refers to himself as an endengered specie. I had always loved children although i was the last of six. However my daughters are like my friends we discuss just anything, i even ask them some embarassing questions just to see how they react and i have made them to be so free to express and discuss just anything. I hold by this i can easily direct and advice them. Some mothers when they see their daughters with an opposite sex their minds immediately go to sex, i think this is wrong. The best approach is to find out from her daughter what she thinks of her male friend.

You are right there is a lot going on in our world and forums like this keeps us inform, hence we know and understand what others go through especailly when we think our own case or situation is the worst. It brings hope.

justina's picture

Very true

i totally agree with the comment that "even the most deformed woman will always attract a man". that is why i think we need serious education among ourselves as women, to educate ourselves that nature is nature, and we cannot keep away men through deforming ourselves.

we should love ourselves, embrace our beautiful body parts, and as mothers, educate our girl children and boy children to love nature and not to destroy. we need to have discussions among families, around issues of love and sex. children need to know that there is a difference between the two, and that one can love a person and not have sex with her.

i think discussing is the key to being informed and then making right choices.

feminist is fun!

ENIE NDOH CECILE's picture

Very true

You are quite correct. If we don't love ourselves then we have to qualms in inflicting pain on ourselves.
I guess why Jesus said we should love our neighbour as ourselves. Because if we know there are things we can't endure we should equally expect the next person to feel thesame.

Discussing sex with our children should be a priority, for they need it to face the world. Whether we like it or not they shall be expose to it one day and when they are ignorant and naive of the consequencies they become vulnerable and fall prey to any negative outcome.

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