Breast ironing, a brutal practice meant to slow the development of young women’s breasts in order to ward off sexual attention, is inflicted on a quarter of all girls in Cameroon, according to a recent study by GTZ, a German NGO.
An additional 3.8 million girls, nearly one-fourth the population of Cameroon, are at risk of breast ironing. The practice involves wrapping heated bandages around a young girl’s chest, then “massaging” or pounding the breast with stones, wooden pestles or hammers that have been heated over coals.
According to BBC News, many mothers and female relatives support the practice Ñ though practitioners can face a three year prison sentence Ñ because, they say, undeveloped breasts mean increased educational opportunity and protection against “sexual immorality.” GTZ’s research shows that women victims face serious health risks, including cyst formation, cancer, serious infections, and damage to skin and breast tissue.
In an effort to fight breast ironing, the Network of Aunties Association (RENATA), a local NGO composed of teen mothers, has partnered with GTZ to launch a television and radio advertising campaign explaining the dangers of the ritual. It is a personal mission for some members of RENATA, such as the organization’s Executive Director, Bessem Ebanga, who told Agence France-Presse, “The aim of RENATA is to prevent young girls from being subjected to what we were.”