Sunday, March 8, 2009

Breast Ironing: A grim secret of Africa's women

"My mother took a pestle, she warmed it well in the fire and then she used it to pound my breasts while I was lying down. She took the back of a coconut, warmed it in the fire and used it to iron the breasts.I was crying and trembling to escape but there was no way."- Geraldin Sirri, a young student in Cameroon.

What is Breast ironing?
Breast ironing is a form of mutilation practiced in parts of Cameroon. A pubescent girl's breasts are flattened, usually by the girl's mother, in an attempt to make her less sexually attractive to men. This practice is believed to help prevent rape and early marriage. Grinding stones, pestles, belts, heated objects and breast bands are used to press or beat down the forming breasts. (Video)

Most tools are warmed before pounding the girls' chests

Is this really what women have to do to protect themselves from sexual assault? Some parents are just doing to so their daughters do not have consensual sex.

"Breast ironing is not a new thing. I am happy I protected my daughter. I 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."


A pilot study by RENATA (a local NGO composed of teen mothers) suggests that:

*Breast ironing appears to be most widely-practiced in Cameroon. It's more common in the Christian and animist south of the country than the Muslim north, where only 10 per cent of women are affected.

*It also occurs in Guinea-Bissau, West and Central Africa, including Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Conakry.

*Some 24 per cent of girls in Cameroon, about one girl in four, undergo breast ironing.

*Breast ironing occurs extensively in the 10 provinces throughout Cameroon.

*A sample survey published in January 2006 of 5000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 in Cameroon, estimates that 4 million women had suffered the process.

*Today, 3.8 million teenagers are threatened with the practice.

*Up to 53 per cent of women and girls interviewed in the coastal Littoral province in the southeast, where the country's main port, Douala, is situated, admit to having had their breasts 'ironed'.

*More than half (58 per cent) of cases breast ironing were undertaken by mothers. Other relatives also participate.

Health and Socio-Economic Implications

*Breast ironing is terribly painful and violates a young girl’s physical integrity.

*Breast ironing exposes girls to numerous health problems such as abscesses, itching, discharge of milk, infection, dissymmetry of the breasts, cysts, breast infections, severe fever, tissue damage and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.

*This painful form of mutilation could not only have negative health consequences for the girls, but often proves futile when it comes to deterring teenage sexual activity.

1 comment:

  1. Please cite your sources.For example, 'a sample survey in 2006' - by whom?