Have you ever heard of “breast ironing?” Me neither. But evidently it’s a thing in Cameroon. And a pretty horrifying thing, at that.
Basically, the idea is this: teenage pregnancy is very high in Cameroon, as it is in much of Africa. In order to keep teenage pregnancy down, parents try to delay the development of breasts in their daughters so they are not as sexually enticing to men. Delaying the development of breasts is also something parents try to decrease the chances of their daughters being sexually assaulted.
So, what they do is put hot stones, coconut shells, etc. on a young woman’s bare breasts. Of course, I’m being generous with the term “young woman.” With better nutrition, girls as young as nine are entering puberty, which means that girls as young as nine are getting their breasts ironed. A quarter of Cameroons girls will have this done.
This isn’t new, either. The Washington Post ran an article about it last year, and the BBC covered it in 2006. But the only reason I know about it is because CurrentTV had a segment on it. (I’ll embed it at the bottom.) Why?
We aren’t talking warm stones pressing down on breasts. These are hot stones. It burns, and according to women who have had this done to them, causes other deformities.
On some level, it’s hard for me to fault the parents (from the video, it looks like primarily mothers) for doing this. They are just trying to work within the societal framework they have. Girls are getting an education, but that means that they are out of the house. In a world where rape and pregnancy are realities, and in a society where getting pregnant means giving up on an education, you do what you can, no matter how woo-ish and contrary to evidence it is. But I am constantly astounded that, across the world, it’s women who have the responsibility to avoid being sexually assaulted.
In the Global West, where I live, women are taught to not get raped. Men are rarely taught to not rape. Women have to guard their behavior at all times. If a woman is drinking and is raped, she was asking for it. If she is wearing a short skirt, she was asking for it. If she was flirting, she was asking for it. Indeed, a recent case in Texas shows that, even when a rape case is a “slam dunk,” (which is almost never is) a community can decide it doesn’t give a flying fuck about the survivor.
It’s the same mentality that prevails all over the world. And it’s the mentality that is perpetuating the torture of innocent girls in Cameroon. Maybe someday the world will start paying attention.