In the past I have written a couple of articles and held radio programs about breast ironing in Cameroon because I feel the need to talk and raise awareness about this crime. Breast ironing just like Female Genital Mutilation are crimes against girls and women but unlike FGM, Breast Ironing has not yet received the kind of media attention that FGM has. Breast Ironing is the act of pounding and massaging of a girls breast using hard or heated objects like stones, pistles and special seed fruits to flatten the breast for them to disappear. There are various reasons why breast ironing is practiced. The most common is that it will prevent a young girl from being chased by men, engaging in premarital sex, getting pregnant, preventing early marriage or rape.
As a teenager, I witness a lot of cases of breast ironing in the compound where I lived and in the city. It was quite common to see a girl’s breast being ironed. It is really a difficult situation as most of the cases that I witnessed happened in the morning before the girls leave for school and at night. This means that these young girls experience some physical and psychological pain when they wake up and before they go to sleep. This is a lot for a girl between 10-15 years old. As a consequence of breast ironing, many victims end up infected with breast cancer and many others confess of not having any sexual satisfaction because of the act. For other victims, the regrowth of their breast may be normal or never the same again. It may be extremely bigger or smaller than usual. Not to mention the humiliation that the whole process brings.
Who irons the breast of a girl?
The truth is that it is mothers, grandmothers, aunties and elderly women in the community who perform this act on the little girls. It is sad to know that women are responsible for violation of a girl’s right. It is about time that women begin to denounce all of these superstitious ways of thinking and acting. We cannot stop violence against women if women are not ready to say No to violence. We cannot treat the infliction of violence from a single perspective. “Violence is violence irrespective of who commits the act” (Konda Delphine)
The fault is not entirely that of women. We have to be objective and examine the power relations of women and men in the society? What real power do women hold to take a decision and stick to it especially in a case where “the honor of the family” is concerned like in this case? It is also the responsibility of men to put a stop to this act. That is why men and women should work together as equal partners in the fight against violence and also for sustainable development.
The society is also to be blamed. Sexism should be curbed entirely from the society. Just because a girl starts developing breast does not mean that she will jump into bed with any man that says hello. At 10 years, a girl is still a child and has little or no idea what sex is. Ironing the breast of a child is putting her through so much pain and at the same time opening her mind to why it is done, Thereby, forcefully putting questions in to her head and stealing her innocence. She will start wondering what this “Sex thing” is about. Besides parents should have some confidence in the children that they raised. They should trust in the fact that these girls have learned a thing or two from their mothers and are responsible children. Most importantly, if we just invest the amount of energy that we use to flatten the chest of young girls, into fighting these injustices, then the world will be a safer place for these girls.
Why Breast Ironing is Common Crime against girls in Cameroon
Even though the act is not practiced very often in the city these days, it is still a very common in the rural areas of Cameroon. The fact that it is very common makes it seem very normal in the eyes of people.
Secondly, it is not a common thing in Cameroon for the police to interfere in the domestic issues of a family. That is to say that a police man cannot lock up a mother or father who decides to iron the breast of their daughter. It is even unheard of for children to report their parents to the police.
Sexism is one of the main reasons why breast ironing is common. The society puts a lot of pressure on the development of a girl child. Instead of ironing the breast of girls and blame it on the unknown possibility that they may engage in premarital sex, get married early or be raped. It still bowls back to the mentality of inflicting pain on girls and telling them it is to avoid something bad that may OR may not happen to them. By the way the last time that I checked, early marriages occur based on the consent of parents.
It’s still common because the Cameroon legal system is very complicated. In fact the rule of law in Cameroon takes us one step further while traditional practices take us two steps backward. It is about time that the Cameroon legal system shift from recognition to action. And this is not an advice just for Cameroon but also for all legal systems in the world. The world has got to move from recognition of women’s rights to actually implementing laws that promote women’s rights. It is not enough to ratify these laws. We must implement them. It will be a shame for Cameroon to ratify laws like CEDAW and other acts that protect the right of children but every one out of four children is experiencing breast ironing in some part of the country. Well I said it before and I will say it again, Iron the injustice and not the breast.