WHAT IS BREAST IRONING?
Breast ironing, also known as breast flattening, is a process that involves pounding or beating a young girl’s breast using hard or hot objects. Breast ironing usually begins with the onset of puberty. It is done to prevent, or reverse breast growth.
The United Nations (UN) describes breast ironing as one of the top five most underreported crimes related to gender-based violence.
WHY IS IT PRACTISED?
Breast ironing can be practised for many different reasons. Often, breast flattening is aimed at slowing physical maturity and puberty, to prevent unwanted attention from men and delay a girl’s sexual activity.
Breast ironing is often practised by mothers. Some mothers may practice breast ironing of their daughters to prevent them from getting married and so they will stay in school for longer.
WHERE IS IT PRACTISED?
Breast ironing is practised in many countries across West and Central Africa, including Togo, Benin, Kenya and Zimbabwe. It is widely practised in Cameroon and an estimated 1 out of 3 girls have been subjected to the practice – this is about 1.3 million.
Worldwide, the United Nations (UN), estimates about 3.8 million teenagers have been affected by breast ironing. It is not only practised in Africa, and some girls from West Africa communities in other countries such as the UK have also been affected.
WHY IS BREAST IRONING HARMFUL?
Breast ironing can have dangerous medical consequences. The practice itself is dangerous and sometimes hot stones and electric irons are used to flatten the breasts. Negative physical effects can include infection, fever and tissue damage. Although no medical studies of its effects have taken place, medical experts warn it could contribute to breast cancer and cysts and interfere with breastfeeding later in life. As well as physical effects, breast ironing can have many damaging psychological effects such as depression. Breast ironing puts the person through pain and distress, often against their wishes.
WHAT IS BEING DONE ABOUT BREAST IRONING?
In Cameroon, no legislation currently exists that condemns breast ironing. However, many non-profit organisations exist to work against breast ironing, which aim to raise awareness of the dangers of this practice. Understanding its dangers is key to ending breast ironing.