"If mama catches my breast growing like this I am dead",That was my little voice 15 years ago echoing in my mind, guilty and afraid at 10 for having breast. How else would I have felt when I was a witness to Hateys screams at about 2:pm everyday for 2 weeks. As soon as the cooking was over and lunch was ready,her mother will put down the pot from the 3 stone fire side and scream her name "Hateyyyyyyy" She would respond and then climb down the stair case to the back yard where the cooking was done.Her mother will then put ask her to lie down on threaded bags which were placed on the floor of the kitchen, put a spatula into the fire and massage her breast rigorously. I often watched this routine from the window of my room and became more guilty as days unfolded and my breast became more visible. She was about 2 years older than me and her breast where more visible than mine,but my breast were getting visible too,"what if the my mother saw it?" "What if the neighbors saw it and told my mother?"These thoughts lingered on my mind almost daily and I would go to bed imagining all sorts of possible solutions to prevent my breast from growing so that I could avoid this scary action. I was guilty and afraid because Hatey was often unwilling to participate in this ritual and she screamed when her mother massaged her breast with a spatula from fire.Whenever she screamed her mother would tell her to shut up and endure the pain because it was for her own good. How could this be?I couldn't understand but I could only imagine that it was true since it was her mother who said this to her.Somehow I was fortunate to escape this nightmare but I have never stopped wishing that Cameroonian girls could all be as fortunate as me if fortunate is the right word to use in this situation.
At a point in their lives when they experience physical and emotional changes, when they are most in need of support from their mothers, most Cameroonian girls,withing the ages 10 to 15 undergo this ritual known as breast ironing. Purported to curtail; sexual activity ,prevent premarital sex ,sexual assaults and teenage promiscuity: coconut shells, spatulas, stones or hammers are placed in hot fire and then used by mothers and grandmothers in Cameroon, to pound or rigorously massage the breast of their daughters.
Made to feel guilty of having breast? Punished for having breast?for the simple fact of being born a woman you are made to feel guilty punished and decisions about your body are made by another person?
According to research, breast ironing inflicts physical and psychological pain on girls .These girls grow up having low self confidence about their bodies. Some of the physical effects include; cyst breast cancer, abscesses and breast feeding issues. Breast ironing has been stated by UNFPA as one of five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.
This post was submitted in response to Putting the Spotlight on Maternal and Reproductive Health.