Posted March 11, 2009 from Cameroon


I received some comments about breast ironing and some people wished to know efforts being taken to tackle it. Actually the first article was introducing breast ironing and its effects but did not delve much on the steps taken to fight it. The strange thing about this practice is that it is not cultural per se, although it has existed for a long time no one can tell how it originated. It is being practice mostly in the urban areas than in villages and Cameroonian men just recently became aware of it due to the growth of recent campaigns against it.

However, in Cameroon organizations such as Réseau National des Associations de Tantines (RENATA), translated in English as - the National Network of the Association of Aunties, the Ministry of Women Empowerment and the Family, and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, GTZ) are leading the campaign to educate mothers and daughters about the dangers involved, and the better ways to prevent teen pregnancy.

The National Network of the Association of Aunties- RENATA, is made up of members who have undergone the practice, and they are trying to stop breast ironing by drawing public attention to its dangers in radio and television spots and by disseminating leaflets.Their next mission is to make breast ironing illegal and eradicate the practice.

The UN says that 3.8 million West and Central African girls are at risk of this painful form of body mutilation. In Cameroon where the practice is most widespread, 50% of adolescent girls in cities and a quarter of all girls nationwide have their breasts 'ironed,' often by their mothers. While some reports proclaim One-quarter of all Cameroonian women are said to have been victims of this painful "breast-ironing".

Ironically, the tradition was a mystery to many in the West African nation until a recent campaign to stop the potentially dangerous practice, aimed at delaying a young girl's natural development was launched.

Nevertheless breast ironing is widespread and interestingly, the high prevalence in cities attributed to the effects of urbanization.

Flavien Ndonko, an anthropologist with GTZ's German-Cameroon HIV/AIDS health programme, noted that this painful form of mutilation could not only have negative health consequences for the girls, but was also a futile form of sex education.

"Many of the RENATA girls, who are young mothers, say they were subjected to 'ironing', and this clearly proves that it does not work ‘as pregnancy prevention’ and that it is a futile and traumatic experience imposed on them,".

Young people make up most of the 5.5 percent of the population living with HIV, and teenage pregnancy is a growing concern. One-third of the 20 to 30 percent of girls with unwanted pregnancies are between 13 and 25 years of age, with more than half of them having fallen pregnant after their first sexual encounter, according to GTZ.

Addressing the general lack of information about sex in the family ran counter to acceptable social norms, GTZ and RENATA pointed out.

"For the parents, it is very difficult to talk of sexuality due to modesty or for cultural reasons, so they prefer to get rid of the bodily signs of sexuality in this way," Ndonko commented. "However, the onset of adolescence is exactly the right time to start this discussion."

Because the topic of sex was taboo, young girls remained ignorant of how to protect themselves from HIV infection and were even more vulnerable to the virus, said Bessem Arrey Ebanga Bisong, Executive secretary of RENATA.

Nonetheless, support for the opposition to the tradition remains evenly balanced. According to a survey 39 percent of women opposed it while 41 percent expressed support and 26 percent were indifferent.

For Ndonko, the campaign is a battle to respect the physical intergrity of young girls, with broader implications for human rights. “If nothing was done today, tomorrow the very parents may even resolve to slice off the nose, the mouth or any other part of the girl which they think is making her attractive to men.”

Despite the campaigns some women still hold fast to it that their mothers did it to them as such they will do it to their own children.

Watch a video about Breast Ironing in Cameroon presented by Nina Garthwaite at - http://current.com/items/88852332/breast_ironing.htm

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