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Breast Ironing! Woman’s Inhumanity To Woman In The Name Of Culture

Br3ast ironing with hot stone, Douala, Cameroon (Photo credit: GETTY-ALAMY)

When it has to do with culture certain practices are seen as no-go areas no matter what the outside world thinks. When it has to do with women torturing fellow women in the name of culture gender activists do not spit the same venom they are likely to spit if it were men perpetrating the act. This is not to say that women do not condemn harmful cultural practices but they scarcely win such wars if fellow women are behind the barbaric practice.

How else can you describe the fact that in the 21st century a cultural practice called ‘br3ast ironing’ still exists among humans in normal societies? Even the term alone sounds scary and difficult to believe.

Br3ast “ironing” is the use of hard or heated objects to try to stunt breast growth in girls. It is not like it’s a picnic for the girls involved. It is as terrible and painful as it sounds. Checkout the process involved:

When girls begin to show signs of puberty, mothers start “ironing” their br3asts, using heated tools like stones, spatulas, and pestles to pound or massage their chests, in order to prevent them from developing. The practice is also known as “br3ast flattening” or “br3ast sweeping,” according to Newsweek. Another technique adopting to achieve br3ast flattening is a mother may also wrap bandages tightly around he daughters’ chests. This ritual is mostly performed on the breast of the young adolescent between the ages of 10 to 19.

Br3ast ironing process (Photo credit: GETTY-ALAMY)

Read the details of br3ast ironing process as described by International Centre For Investigative Reporting“Breast ironing ranges from using heated leaves to massage and knead the breasts, to the use of baked grinding stone to crush the girls’ budding breasts. There are however two widely used methods in carrying out this inhumane practice. The first involves heating tools like metal, sticks, heavy stone, pestles, spatulas, spoons, rocks, grinding stones, hot coconut shells, leaves, and hammers over hot charcoal fire, and then pressed on the young breasts, with the aim of flattening them or stunting their growth…. The heat from the tools is required to melt the fat on the breasts, so as to stop them from growing or bulging. The second involves wrapping the girl’s chest very tightly with an elastic bandage overnight for a long time; sometimes as long as a year. This latter method is less preferred as it makes the girl uncomfortable for a long time.” Scary isn’t it? Like something out of a horror movie.

Breast ironing with spade in Douala Cameroon (Photo credits: News of The South)

Br3ast ironing, like female genital mutilation is a practice that is said to be perpetuated “in the interest of the girls.” It is a traditional practice that is widespread in West Africa. It is a practice still widespread in Cameroon, where one in four teenagers is subjected to the traumatic process by relatives, often hoping to lessen their sexual attractiveness. Br3ast ironing is an age-old practice in Cameroon, as well as some other African countries like, Central Africa Republic, Benin, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo and Zimbabwe. According to a report by the United Nations, breast ironing affects about 3.8 million women around the world, with Cameroon having the highest number of cases in the world. Cases have also been reported in the UK and as many as 1,000 girls from West African immigrant communities in the UK are believed to have undergone “breast ironing,” The Week reported. For instance, about a thousand women in the United Kingdom were reported in 2016 to have been subjected to breast ironing. The victims who lived in West African communities in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Luton, Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and Leeds mostly had their breasts ironed by their mothers, reports UK’s Mirror.

So what reasons do women give for putting their daughters through the unbelievably inhuman process of br3ast ironing? One major reason is that the mothers are worried that their daughters’ budding br3asts would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and even rape. One woman identified as Philomene Moungang, who “ironed” her daughters’ br3ast said, said she started “ironing” the girls’ bosoms with a heated stone, reports smh.com.au. “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,” the mother said. “They cried and said it was painful. But I explained that it was for their own good….When I was growing up as a little girl, my mother did it to me just as all other women in the village did it to their girl children,” Mrs Moungang said. “So I thought it was just good for me to do to my own children.” Though “br3ast ironing” is not exclusively performed by mothers on their daughters, the practice is typically carried out by a girl’s mother or a female relative; But in some cases, girls have “ironed” their own breasts, Newsweek reported.

You can imagine that. We are not discussing stone-age cultural practice. We are talking about something that still happens today in parts of Africa. And society seems to be accommodating this as a “rich” cultural practice. “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,” Dr Ndonko said. “Even the victims themselves thought it was good for them.”

Does this practice have side effects? Sure it does and the mothers who do this cannot pretend not to know about this. Who knows; they may see it as collateral damage to save a cherished cultural practice. Br3ast ironing has many side-effects, among which are severe pain and abscesses, infections, breast cancer, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts. The practice can also be both physically and emotionally traumatic. The girls who face this terrible experience confirm the physical and emotional discomfort the practice brings upon them. “Every morning, before going to school, my mom makes me lift up my top so she can make sure I haven’t taken my bandage off,” a 14-year-old Cameroonian girl told French photographer Gildas Paré, whose project Plastic Surgery Dream spotlights victims of the practice. “It’s been two years now and she still checks it on a daily basis. It’s humiliating. I’d like her to stop.”

The practice is said to be most common in the Christian South of the country, rather than in the Muslim North and Far North provinces, where only 10 per cent of women are affected.

Just check the next sentence out. The “br3ast ironing” process may make girls feel ashamed of their bodies. It has also been observed that this inhuman cultural practice is not even effective as it does not stop br3asts from developing. So what is this cultural practice still doing hanging around communities when those perpetuating know it is not ultimately achieving its aim? Check this fact out – While the practice is misguided, such fears of early pregnancy, marriage, or rape are not unfounded. According to UNICEF, 38% of children in Cameroon are married by their 18th birthdays. More than a quarter of adolescent girls are mothers, and 20% of them drop out of school after getting pregnant, the Cameroon Medical Council reported. So how is this practice still being curdled by women in Cameroon and other countries involved when records show it is a failure?

This is how Stop Violence Against Women, a human rights, group described the meaninglessness of br3ast ironing: “Contrary to the beliefs of its proponents, this practice has not stopped girls from becoming sexually active or becoming the victims of sexual violence. Instead, the practice has led to an inability to produce breast milk, cysts, lesions, and to the development of cancer in young women. The practice is painful for those who experience it and often results in the destruction of breast tissue, making girls vulnerable to breast infection, itching, and abscesses.

In fact, unfortunately, Cameroon also has one of the world’s highest rape incidences with almost half a million rape cases recorded yearly (excluding cases not reported as a result of stigmatization).

Some survivors of “br3ast ironing” have made it their mission to educate Cameroonian women about its harmful effects to discourage them from continuing the practice, CBS reported. Cameroon has yet to pass against the “traditional harmful practice,” according to Gender Empowerment and Development (GeED) a Cameroon-based organization.

According to Global Citizen, “Rather than trusting men to respect women’s bodies and their choices, these mothers believe they must make their daughters less attractive to protect them. When girls and women are seen as equals and are empowered to make choices for themselves, choices that are respected by those around them, the need to “protect” girls through “breast ironing” will be eliminated.”

Campaign against br3ast ironing (Photocredit:face2faceafrica)

The clear message projected by Global Citizen and other women advocacy groups is that br3ast ironing is a gender-based violence against women and should be wiped out of any society. These advocacy groups believe that girls should be proud of their br3asts and should allow them to grow. One campaign leaflet in Cameroon read: “A girl … must be proud of her breasts because they are natural …. They are a gift from God. Allow the breasts to grow naturally. Do not force them to disappear or appear.”

Unlike Female Genital Mutilation which has been outlawed in almost every country in Africa, there is no known law against breast ironing despite efforts by survivors and rights agencies to get the governments to ban the practice. The campaign to wipe out this cultural practice better described as woman’s inhumanity to woman continues across the nations involved.

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, COOU, (formerly Anambra State University), Igbariam Campus.

1 Comment

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  1. Why on earth will someone try to stop my God given breast from growing; am glad this demonic culture does not exist in Nigeria.

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