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The worrying issue of Breast Ironing

You probably just read the title of this article and thought it is a bizarre headline. What is this article all about? For whatever reason you are interested in the topic – because you want to know what it is about, as the title sounds quite odd, or because you know a little about it already and want to read more about it – I am happy to inform you about the a problem here that has been widely neglected by the media. In this article, I will briefly describe to you what ‘breast ironing’ is about and why this issue deserves special attention.

Breast ironing is a traditional common procedure in some African countries, such as for instance in Cameroon and Nigeria. The main process is to flatten young girls’ breasts with hot wood, stones, banana shells, or other hot tools in order to interrupt the development of their breasts. Indeed, the majority of the inhabitants that make use of this practice consider girls without breasts as ‘unattractive’, so girls would go through a lot in order to ‘allure’ a man and would not get pregnant at an early age.

It is widespread belief that as soon as their breasts are growing, girls are ready for sexual intercourse. Therefore, breast ironing is done at a relatively young stage in a girl’s life. The purpose is to keep their breasts from developing or to even make them disappear completely, so that men are not attracted to the girls and will not want to marry them, nor get them pregnant. Moreover, within the countries in which this issue prevails, the living conditions are slowly improving, which leads to better diets of the population and teenagers getting into puberty at a younger age. Mostly, girls get into puberty around the age of nine and therefore get the treatment around that time.

Nevertheless, the problem is still pressing. African mothers maintain this habit generation after generation, thinking that it will protect their daughters from their patriarchal society’s customs. Indeed, They want to ‘protect’ their daughters from sexual harassment or being forced to have children too early when they do not want to. Although it has a lot of negative consequences, mothers do not regret doing it, because they do it to protect their child. The daughter often believes that her mother only has her best interest in mind, whereas her father often does not know about it at all. As it is considered not customary and appropriate to talk about it, the problem is not acknowledged enough.

Moreover, there are physical, as well as psychological consequences to it. After this procedure, girls are scared and develop deformations. The exact medical aftereffects have not yet been fully researched, but it is known that it triggers cancer, infections, and blisters. Girls are furthermore more prone to get a high fever and could lose one or two breasts completely. As breast ironing is done repeatedly in order to ensure that the breasts disappear as much as possible, girls often get psychologically ill at a young age.  However, they think that it is done for their own good. Due to the traumas they acquire, they mostly do not talk with other people about it and it is therefore difficult to track it.

Different groups, such as the English ‘Came W & G’, are trying to raise awareness on this worrying issue and want affected girls to speak up. They work together with different associations in the UK, as well as in Cameroon and organise campaigns so that people are aware of the effects of breast ironing and make girls entrust their stories. Yet, this is very difficult, because girls get intimidated and insulted by their families and friends when they get to know about it. Came W & G’ s goal is to make girls understand that breast ironing is not a solution for making their future better so that at some point, this detrimental tradition will be progressively abandoned. I hope that you are now aware of this tradition and that you spread the word. If you want to find out more about ‘Came W & G’, I put the link of their website under this article.


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