Breast Ironing Common in West Africa
One in four girls in Cameroon are subjected to “breast ironing” to reduce their sexual attractiveness, a common practice throughout the region.
Worried that her daughters’ budding breasts would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and even rape, their mother Philomene Moungang started ‘ironing’ the girls’ bosoms with a heated stone. “I did it to my two girls when they were eight years old. I would take the grinding stone, heat it in the fire and press it hard on the breasts,” Moungang said. “They cried and said it was painful. But I explained that it was for their own good.”
“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, experts say. A new survey has revealed it is shockingly widespread in Cameroon, where one in four teenagers are subjected to the traumatic process by 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 it 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.
This from the same folks who gave us female genital mutilation. One presumes “one in four teenagers” is really “one in four girls.”