World Pulse

CAMEROON: Music Breaks the Silence About Breast Ironing

Kim Crane
Posted March 4, 2014 from United States

How a song is aiding the fight against a harmful practice that affects four million girls in Cameroon.

"The best way to get youths’ attention is through music, through art, through song, through dance."

“Teach the girl child how to use her mind, not destroy her body.” This isn’t just an empowering message for girls; it’s also a lyric of a catchy song by Cameroonian artist Raminas King. The song is part of a campaign by Gender Danger to end breast ironing, a widespread practice in Cameroon where mothers iron their daughters’ breasts with hot stones and other kitchen utensils in an attempt to delay puberty and halt their daughters’ physical development.

Listen now

"Stop Breast Ironing" by Raminas King. Click above to play.

According to statistics from the German Society for International Cooperation, one out of every four girls in Cameroon has been affected by breast ironing. Gender Danger founder Chi Yvonne Leina is hopeful that these numbers have actually been decreasing in recent years due to her organization’s efforts. Gender Danger’s community outreach has already resulted in over 20,000 women pledging to resist the practice. Leina, who herself stood up to her grandmother’s attempts to iron her breasts as a young girl, knows how powerful youth voices can be. World Pulse spoke with Leina to learn more about how Gender Danger is using music to empower girls in Cameroon and protect them from harm.

Can you begin by explaining breast ironing and why it is happening in Cameroon?

Mothers iron their daughters’ breasts to prevent the girls from early marriage, early pregnancy and rape. Unfortunately breast ironing is not a solution because it causes more problems than it can prevent. The process is very painful. Mothers use stones or tools heated over the fire to press, pound, and massage the breasts of these young girls. There are many dangerous physical and psychological side effects. Sadly, many girls who have endured this practice stop loving their own bodies.

Why did you decide to incorporate music into the campaign?

Breast ironing is a silent danger in Cameroon. If you are not a victim, you don’t know about it because it is not spoken about in public spaces. This song is an opportunity to change that.

This song is saying education yes, mutilation no. Give the African girl child her pride. The music entertains and at the same time informs and educates.

We use music in our campaign because we are targeting youth. And the best way to get youths’ attention is through music, through art, through song, through dance. If you listen to the song, it has components of African melody and rap.

It’s also a way of making the girls understand that they can speak out about the issue. This shouldn’t be a taboo topic. We want girls to be able to talk about breast ironing with their peers, to discuss solutions and how to avoid it. We are breaking the silence in a very loud way with music!

What do you hope a young girl in Cameroon will feel as she listens to this song?

If I am a 14-year-old girl listening to the song, first I am going to know that I am from an important component of society that someone could be singing about a young girl like me. And then, if I am a potential victim, I will know that anyone violating my body is wrong and needs to stop. And if I am already a victim of breast ironing, I won’t feel embarrassed to talk about it. I will work to stop it from happening to others.

What messages about girls are most common in Cameroonian music?

We have all kinds of songs describing the hips of women, but we hardly hear songs that uplift the image of women. Hearing this music, a girl grows up seeing herself as a sex object. She doesn’t view her body as something that is worth dignifying or preserving for her own benefit first, before thinking of the next person.

Youth always, always, always emulate what they see in the media.What do girls hear?That their bodies are sexual tools. It’s a messed up environment and we need to go back to the drawing board to realize where this problem is coming from.

In yesteryears we used to hear music that was didactic, but nowadays there is usually no positive message sent out to girls.

So even as you are working to end the harmful tradition of breast ironing, you are actually relying on positive cultural traditions?

Yes. In our communities we had many dirges for funerals that convey messages in our local languages. It has always been our tradition to use music to convey messages. But with the influx of different cultures and the global trend of youth trying to Americanize everything they do, most of the music now is just for excitement. It is not necessarily propagating a particular message.

We used to sing songs like Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Mbarga, which told us sweet things about the mother. That song was saying something positive. Nowadays we don’t get so many musicians coming up with these ideas. It costs us nothing to nurture a new generation of artists who produce music that elevates the image of the girl child and the woman.

Tradition can be positive. Through Gender Danger’s work in the Northwest region of Cameroon, we’ve been able to get to the core of tradition, the heart of tradition. We’ve now reached the matriarchs, the indigenous grandmothers of Cameroon, called the Takembeng: a powerful group of women who can stop any negative thing if they want to. Yesterday representatives of Gender Danger met with them and convinced these women to act to prevent tradition from being used as an excuse for violence against women.

What’s next for this movement?

Because of this song, Raminas King was invited to a popular television show in Cameroon. It will take more effort however to make the song infiltrate. In the near future, we want more young girls to be able to hear and grasp the message in the song. We are now also using writing to reach secondary school girls because we believe that we can tickle their imagination with creative writing and help to break them of those silent stories. Through our outreach we are turning victims into trainers. With all of these efforts, gradually we are going to get there. We will see a better Cameroon for young girls and a better Cameroon for women.

About Chi Yvonne Leina

Chi Yvonne Leinais a World PulseVoices of Our FutureCorrespondent from Cameroon. She is also a journalist, community leader, and digital media change agent dedicated to shining a light on the unheard voices of ordinary women in Africa and transforming their fate.

After years of discrimination working as a woman in traditional print and broadcast media in Cameroon, Chi Yvonne Leina broke with the status quo and began to use her journalism experience to expose negative cultural practices, such as the inhumane treatment of widows and breast ironing. She went on to found the organizationGender Dangerand she is currently collaborating with Cameroon's National Ministry of Gender to expand her campaign nationwide. Her vision has grown to include founding a media center to train women and young girls to use digital media and citizen journalism to educate and transform society.

Q&A with Chi Yvonne Leina

Comments 10

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leila Kigha
Mar 06, 2014
Mar 06, 2014

As we approach this years edition of the international day of the Woman, the theme Inspire change is worth reflecting on. Music is indeed a very powerful weapon in the hands of the right persons. With its ability to cut through to the soul and stick to the mind, music with messages like Leina's will inspire change in the minds and hearts of many to the issue of breast ironing,genital mutilation,early marriage,rape,child abuse etc in Cameroon and elsewhere! Let's inspire change in every girl,woman,government,organisation as we celebrate this year!

Laura Jackson
Mar 14, 2014
Mar 14, 2014

This song is such an inspiring way to work for change. What I don't understand is, even if mothers want to prevent their young daughters from being married off early or being sexually harassed, etc, doesn't this practice hurt their changes of marrying when they are of an appropriate age. It seems counterproductive.

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby
Mar 19, 2014
Mar 19, 2014

Kim & Leina and Raminas and all those involved in this particular project and in writing about it,

I am SO moved by the lyrics and the music and the magnificent photo of the divine girl holding up her sign to claim her voice! What a deeply engaging way to spread the word about the atrocities of breast ironing. These precious girls and young women are the future and the thought of depriving them of not only their self-esteem but also their very spirits and souls is heartbreaking. May you make significant progress with this particular endeavor and carry with you my loving support, respect and admiration from afar. With Profound Appreciation, Sarah
Mar 24, 2014
Mar 24, 2014

Thank you so much for sharing this story!!

Miracles are happening little bit by little bit. The more steps taken forward, the better in the long run.

An amazing SONG with great power for Humanity.

With Love


Samia Dowla
Mar 26, 2014
Mar 26, 2014

This is amazing. The beauty of the process is no one is making them listen, they are listening themselves. But I just had to ask this, now that almost everyone knows about breast ironing, isn't there any enforced law prohibiting women doing this? If not, I think it will be too hard to end this dangerous practice.

Precious Nkeih
Mar 28, 2014
Mar 28, 2014

Dear Sis,

How wonderful of you to have incorporated music into your campaign. The song is loaded with information. Kudos to Raminas King. Thanks for raising even more awareness on this issue.

With love, Precious

Terri Rucker
Mar 31, 2014
Mar 31, 2014

We humans never tire of finding creative ways to assult our women, this story is horrible, but i thank you for having the courage to take on this task. Music is such a powerful tool. What support do you need for this process, many of us in the world would like to help you, Terri USA

Mulheres Republicanas de Mozambique
Apr 21, 2014
Apr 21, 2014

African Culture is complex, While Girls breasts are ironed in Cameron Islamic women and men go trough comparable pain and some Mozambican Women Prolong their genital organ - not because they are obliged to do it but because they believe on the theory behind the action.Therefor it is important to implement e mechanism to change peoples mentalities but we must not destroy or erase the values of African culture. Most of African women do not go through all those barbaric traditions. We must remember that there are some elder people behind those actions. They do it because they think that they are doing the right thing. I had a Friend in Zambezia, who got married to a revolutionary leader. She was only 2-3 years older than me. Few month after her marriage we sow her getting loosing her weight. I heard about the reason. She told me that was going to be in the remote areas where her husband was born only to make the prolongation of genital organs because her husband was torturing her for not knowing about the importance of not having done that. To my surprise I was told that she is still married and happy married with the same husband for over 35 years.

The breast thing is what it is and there is nothing we can do about it. Forbid that is also dangerous for Democracy. The answers o why Women go through those kind of operation should be found on man. It is mans fall. By man I mean human being. In 2013 summer I Interviewed a Medical Doctor from Copenhagen University Ris Hospital. He quit his Job because. He was in another department than breast, but did not want to work there anymore. He said it no longer about health it is only about about money. In the Hospitals of Copenhagen.

Some times I wonder what is going on on the head of the women who go to a doctor, lay down in a bed and ask the medical Doctor to start operation and go through pain infection and much much more only to change nature. Some women say they do it because they want to find a good husband. Others say they do it to look beautiful. A friend of mine ones wake up with 3 breasts because one suddenly was divide in 2. She needed a total amount of 9000 US Dollars to travel to Brasil or Thailand only to repair the breasts. She did not have the money. Some of the Women who go through breast operation must do it every 9-10 years unless she is fat enough to take fat from other pars of her body and place that in the breasts.

In Denmark there are advertisement of naked women showing their breast on public transportation, Schools everywhere. Ones a experienced a little baby less than 3 years old pointing at the advertisement and saying, see see, breasts. P believe that baby did not know many words but he new those were breasts of a women being showed to everyone everywhere.

I think it is strange that men today can make small operation and stop getting women pregnant. Bu nobody place adds of naked man showing exactly the parts doctors work on the way the women body is being showed.

Ilda Maria

May 02, 2014
May 02, 2014

If this is what it takes to be me an African Girl. People younger than me or the same age as me facing these circumstances, I'm very sorry for them this is beyond our control for sure. Our elders please solve problems with solution nor with problems again.

Mar 30, 2017
Mar 30, 2017

Am very grateful for sharing this very powerful story that tells a lot about what is happening to women in Cameroon. Thanks for taking a brave stand and anyone else who has supported you in this. I love your strategy on how to solve the problem. Keep up the good work you are doing for women in Cameroon.

With very warm regards and love,