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.”

FILED UNDER: Africa, Gender Issues, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Why the UN humans right commission should set up permanent reporting on this…except they are already busy with something else it seems.

  2. Jay says:

    That is just sick. People who do that, or encourage that, are seriously pushing, if not leaping over into, “doesn’t deserve to live” status in my book.

    Along with those who create the environment in which people can convince themselves it’s a good idea.

    Bejus Crikes! Genital mutilation wasn’t enough for them? Sick. Hang ’em by their own genitals and flay them slowly over a fire. That’ll teach the bastards.

  3. Liquid says:

    Africa has one of the hightest child sexual exploitation rates in the world so it goes to show how desperate these mothers have become in protecting their children. It’s sick but remember that in Africa, especially the southern parts, that some of the men are taught about all these rituals and superstitions where having sex with babies or virgin children will cure or prevent them from having aids. It’s horrible! Not only do the children have to worry about starving to death or getting aids, but they have to worry about being sexually abused or taken by evil people that make them sex slaves or forced into armies which fight amongst each other and used for and by warlords. It’s not a good environment for anyone….let alone the little children.

  4. Don’t forget the UN peacekeepers on the outlook for any unironed girls.

  5. Kent says:

    Donâ??t forget the UN peacekeepers on the outlook for any unironed girls.

    Are you sure they’re that discriminating in their tastes?