Breast Ironing is a practice performed by a mother, the breast of a girl going through puberty is pounded using tools such as spatulas, grinding stones, hot stones, and hammers. This is done to delay the girl’s development and to protect them from rape and other unwanted male attention. It is estimated that one in four girls in Cameroon suffer because of breast ironing. And while the practice is common in Cameroon, there are reports that it is still happening among Cameroonians in other parts of the world.
According to studies, this practice is still being done in parts of Guinea Bissau, Chad, Togo, and Benin, But appears to be most prevalent in Cameroon (Juenesse, 2007). In Cameroon, there are over 200 ethics groups with different norms and customs and in all of them, Breast ironing is practised (Sa’ah, 2006). The ironing process can last anywhere from one week to several months depending on how resistant the breast are and how resistance the girl’s body is to the process. Sometime the heated objects can be used twice a day for weeks or months to crush the developing breast (Tapscott, 2012).
The objects are heated and then placed and pressed on the girls who have just been sleeping on the bed, the objects are kept there by anyone strong enough to immobilize the girl during the procedure. immobilizing the girl is important because the girl might try to run as soon the object is placed on the breast because of the extreme pain. If the stone cools down, it is then heated again and the process is repeated. Interestingly the study found that fathers are mostly ignorant of what is being done to there girls as the procedure happens in the kitchen and traditional Africa, the kitchen is not for men (Tchoukou,2014).
What is interesting about Breast ironing is that it is not an ancient practice, it seems to have developed as a result of urbanization. Women who moved to cities became concerned about the safety of the girls, this led to the re-emergence of breast ironing (MUKAMA, 2007). Another factor highlighted in the study is that while the marriage age has increased, the age when girls through puberty have decreased, this is is largely due to increased nutrition this has also led to the emergence of breast ironing (Mabuse, 2011).
The ramifications for this practice are huge, studies have shown that girls that are subjected to breast ironing are at increased risk of developing breast cancer and inability to lactate when they have children themselves due to the destruction of the milk ducts. Girls can also develop cysts, itching, tissue damage and in some cases the complete disappearance of the breast. Girls that go through this procedure also suffer from emotional distress, they experience body image issues, low self-esteem, which may affect them in there career, education, and public or social affairs. (Tchoukou,2014). Perhaps the most surprising aspect about breast ironing is, it is the women that do it to there own children.
There was not a lot of literature on breast ironing and the information highlighted in this article came from a pilot study that was done by the World Health Organization. The reasons for breast ironing given below are opinions based on the limited literature that was looked at.
- The first reason that can be inferred from this is, child marriages, according to international women’s coalition, child marriages are common in Cameroon and many parts of Africa. Delaying the manifestation of womanhood could often mean that the child gets married late and stays in school longer. Women out of love for their daughters resort to drastic measures like this in order to protect them from Men and early marriages.
- The second reason could be the general sexual violence women and girls go through in Cameroon, In 2011 the Demographic and Health Survey and other cluster surveys should that, since the age 15, 55% of women and girls have experienced physical violence. This is mainly done by there husbands/partners but can also be done by the mother/father or there sisters/ brothers. Among women who had sex with there partners, 20% had sex against there will. Especially those that had sexual intercourse under the age the 15(30%) Violence against women In Africa is a mixture of both societal and traditional customs. For example in some ethnic groups, we find husbands have rights to beat their wives also the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, early marriage and wife inheritance ( United Nations, 2013)
In conclusion, as the pilot study indicated, breast Ironing does not stop girls from being sexually active or from becoming victims of sexual violence. Women do this to there girls to protect them from the violence they have to endure. Over the next weeks, we will be taking a closer look at different cultural traditions and why we need to stop.
Innocent, M., Ndonko, F., Ngoo, G., Soares, J. F., & Macassa, G. (2012). Breaking the Silence: Understanding the practice of Breast ironing in Cameroon. African Journal of Health Sciences, 23(4), 260-265.
Juenesse Horizon. (2007). Breast Ironing in Cameroon: An overview for Fair Fund.
Rose, S. D. (2013). Challenging global gender violence. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 82, 61-65.
Rebecca!Tapscott. (2013). UNDERSTANDING BREAST “IRONING”:. Retrieved from http://fic.tufts.edu/assets/Understanding-breast-flattening.pdf
Sa’ah, R. J. (2006). Cameroon girls battle’breast ironing’. BBC News.
The Advocates. (2010). Breast Ironing Retrieved from http://www.stopvaw.org/harmful_practices_breast_ironing
Varza, R. (n.d.). Breast ironing in Cameroon: Women in Africa bear a painful tradition.
Julie Ada, T. – Introducing the Practice of Breast Ironing as a Human Rights Issue in. doi:- 10.4172/2169-0170.1000121