Cameroon's women want to stop breast-ironing

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Cameroon’s women want to stop breast ironing

Not many people talk about breast ironing. But it has a terrible effect on girls. Amy Hall reports.

When the children’s doctor Tamara Bugembe read her first email about ‘breast ironing’, she was shocked. But she didn’t take it seriously until a few years later, when she was working in Cameroon.

‘Breast ironing’, or ‘making breasts flat’, tries to stop breasts growing. This is to stop men looking at girls and to stop them having sex early. It is usually the girl’s mother who does this, or another member of the family, sometimes, even the girl herself. They use a heated tool, such as a pestle (a big, heavy stone).


Stopping development: Tools used for breast ironing are often those found around the house and then heated. This mother holds a stone and pestle. (© Aurora Photos / Alamy)

This is common in Cameroon, but not many people talk about it. Research by Cameroonian women’s organization RENATA and Germany’s Association for International Co-operation (GTZ) in 2006 found that 24 per cent of young girls and women in Cameroon had experienced it.

Similar procedures have been done in countries including Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa. Margaret Nyuydzewira is co-founder of CAME Women and Girls’ Development Organization (CAWOGIDO), in London. She says breast ironing is also happening in Britain. ‘I met a police officer who told me they arrested a woman in Birmingham who was doing breast ironing. Because nobody knew about it, they thought it was her culture, they did not arrest her. We cannot say it’s culture because it’s harming a child,’ she explains.


Giving girls power to fight against breast ironing in Cameroon. (Nakinti Besumbu Nofuru/Gender Danger)

A campaign to raise awareness about breast ironing has begun in the Netherlands.

The term ‘breast ironing’ is shocking, but for some mothers the alternative for their daughters seems much worse. The average age of rape victims in Cameroon is 15.

On 27 September 2013, CAWOGIDO is organizing a conference on breast ironing in London. To find out more go to:

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