“The absurdly harmful practice of Breast Ironing is when a hot stone, iron or a spatula is used to compress the breast tissues in young girls. The irrational process may last for a couple of days or for a few weeks.” Leyla Hussein, a Somali psychotherapists and social activist.”
Central and West Africa are the countries practicing breast ironing majorly and according to an estimate by the UN, 3.8 million young women are at risk of breast ironing. The inane practice is justified with invasion of words like ‘culture’, ‘tradition’ or ‘religion’ and costing dreadfully on young girls lives. Breast ironing is an extremely painful process causing severe damage to the tissues. The practice among young girls results in breast cancer, cysts, breast feeding and depression on later stages in life. It is a torturous process carried out by mother of the girl using heated leaves to press and massage the breasts, using scalding grinding stone to crush the budding gland. The consequences include breast infections, the formation of abscesses, malformed breasts and the eradication of one or both breasts.
“Each time I cried as it was really painful,” she says. “I didn’t understand what was going on, but it was very difficult to speak about.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Breast Ironing is one of the five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence. The practice is less common in the Muslim north where only 10% of the women are affected and as high as 53% women are affected in the Cameroon’s southeastern region of Littoral. The brutal flattening of developing chest is practiced to protect young girls from rape and sexual harassment. The flattening of breasts would be less feminine and would save the girl from pre-marital sexual activities and avoiding teenage pregnancy and thus focusing on their education. This lessens the confidence in girls psychologically who thinks of themselves to look alike boys.
More than 41% of Cameroonian girls, under the age of nine, have their breasts ironed. A charity, CAME Women’s and Girl’s Development Organization, is raising awareness regarding the problem. Several women are now campaigning against this dreadful practice and educating girls by asserting that breasts are created by God and ironing them is harmful for health. They believe only education can halt to this barbaric practice. Asserting the importance of sex education is priority rather than breast ironing.
“What an absurd world we live in when women’s bodies are not considered safe in their natural state, and men are not considered responsible for controlling their own urges,” writes Hussein.