Breast Ironing: A Harmful Practice Hiding Under TraditionApr 26, 2023 02:00PM ● By Jerrywright Ukwu
Image: woman going to the market Source: Wikimedia Commons
You may have heard of female genital mutilation and other forms of gender-based violence crimes, but have you ever heard of breast ironing?
Breast ironing is a harmful cultural practice that involves using heated objects, such as stones, hammers, or spatulas, to massage or press a girl’s developing breasts, aiming to suppress or delay their growth.
The practice, also known as breast flattening or breast sweeping, is typically carried out by female relatives or traditional practitioners and is usually performed on girls between the ages of 8 and 14. Breast ironing is a well-kept secret between the young girl and her mother. Often the father remains completely unaware.
Some girls are told to lie down on a bamboo bed by a fire while an elder presses a hot wooden spatula on their chests to try to flatten their chests. Girls’ breasts are also tightly wrapped with a belt until flattened. The practitioners also see it as a means of helping girls to maintain purity. Traditionalists believe it helps to avoid rape and early marriage.
It is commonly practiced in several African countries, such as Cameroon, where up to 4 million girls and women are affected.
It has been reported in Benin, Ivory Coast, Chad, Guina-Bissau, Kenya, Togo, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Guinea-Conakry. The practice is also reported in other parts of the world, including Asia and the Middle East.
The United Nations says that breast ironing affects 3.8 million women globally.
The practice can cause physical and psychological harm, including breast infections, scarring, deformity, pain, and emotional trauma. It can also lead to complications such as breast cancer, cysts, and difficulty breastfeeding. Also, it may have psychological consequences such as low self-esteem, shame, or anxiety about one’s body.
According to the African Health Organization, some indicators that a girl has undergone breast ironing are as follows:
1. Unusual behavior after an absence from school or college, including depression, anxiety, aggression, withdrawal etc.;
2. Reluctance in undergoing routine medical examinations;
3. Some girls may ask for help but may not be explicit about the problem due to embarrassment or fear;
4. Fear of changing for physical activities due to scars showing or bandages being visible.
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