Breast ironing the latest craze in oppression

// 23 June 2006

Girls in Camaroon are routinely having their breasts beaten and “ironed” by their mothers, in a misguided attempt to prevent them from having sex and protect them from sexual attack, according to the BBC.

Cameroon has now started a campaign to stop the practice, which affects over a quarter of girls and can cause permanent damage.

Student Geraldin Sirri recounted her painful experience.

“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.”

Many mothers have no regrets about ironing their daughter’s breasts.

“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.

This tells a number of stories: first off, never be surprised when humanity comes up with yet another brutal thing to do to girls. But also, proper sex education is the only way forward. Some of these cases add an extra layer of complexity, such as this one:

Another woman from Mamfe in south-west Cameroon told me she ironed her own breasts as a girl so that she would not be forced into early marriage as is the practice in her village.

“I wanted to go to school like other girls who had no breasts,” Emilia said.

This AllAfrica story breaks down who is responsible, and it really is a lesson in how it’s not just male patriarchs responsible for the most brutal of manifestations of this sort of abuse:

Following a study on breast modeling in Cameroon carried out in December 2005 by one Dr. Flavien Ndonko and Germaine Ngo’o, 58 percent of breast ironing is done by mothers, seven percent by the grandmother, nine percent by the sister, nine percent by the aunt, 10 percent by the nanny and seven percent by the girl herself.

It was also revealed that in rare cases, neighbours, herbalists, the father, the brother, a cousin or a friend are accomplices to the traumatising practice.

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