Breast Ironing: Unmasking this odd African sex practice for the world to understand

n.c.radomesStarred Page By n.c.radomes, 9th Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Africa>Cameroon>Yaoundé & Around

Wikipedia defines breast ironing as a form of breast reduction in which a pubescent girl's breasts are ironed with a heated object, usually by the girl's mother in an attempt to make her less sexually attractive to men.


The objective of this paper is not to insult or spread malice, but to help put things in their proper perspective. If ever female private parts happened to be mentioned are more for educational purposes. Private parts of women are sacred things. They should be made to bloom to serve their intended purposes. Some of our world brothers and sisters who are still in the dark should realized that breasts are sublime outlets through which babies suck milk for growth and nourishment. The sex organs serve no other meaning but for procreation or propagation of the human race.


WHEN I first read something about the ironing of young girls' breasts, I couldn't believe that such a thing is actually happening in this beautiful, challenging and wonderful world of ours. The initial encounter challenge me to prove deeper into the subject. I buckled down to do research. So I log on to the internet to get the details of this bizarre thing. Very soon I was fortunate enough to gather a brimful insights of the subject matter after the research. Here is a concrete example of what breast ironing is.

Weird facts about breast ironing

Thirteen-year old Geraldine Mbalor was in tears when she recounted her ordeal: "I had just finished doing my homework when my mother summoned me to the kitchen. She boiled water and in the water she put a grinding stone. She then removed the stone holding it with a thick cloth to protect her hands and placed it in my breasts and started ironing them. I felt so much pain that I started crying. After that she bandaged my breasts with a band. She did this to me for 2 and 1/2 months".

Let's pause for another moment to listen to the grim experience of a 14-year old- Amelia. Her breasts started developing when she was nine. Her elder sister decided to massage them every evening with a towel soaked in hot water. "This was very painful and every evening before I slept she would put a big elastic bell well fastened round my chest to flatten my breasts. Six months later the flesh which held my breasts were already weak. At 10, I already had fallen breasts and each time I undress I'm ashamed.

Breast ironing is a traditional practice which was handed down from one generation to another. It is practiced in West and Central Africa, particularly in Cameroon, Chad, Togo, Benin and Ginea-Conakry. Statistics show that 26% of Cameroonian girls at puberty age undergo breast ironing. Mothers believe it protects their daughters from sexual advances of boys and men who think children are ripe for sex once their breasts begin to grow..


Like doctors and health officers, breast ironing practitioners- usually mothers and relatives- have likewise their own tools which consists of the following: grinding stones, hammers, pestles, spatulas, bananas, coconut shells and towels (soaked in hot water).

Depending on the kind of tool used, the tool is heated first directly on fire or soaked in boiling water before it is used to iron the breasts. The repeated process of pressing and rolling the tool over the breasts may take a number of minutes. Meanwhile- the girl-patient, in obedience to her mother- grimaced with pain and silently sobbed while undergoing the pounding and massaging process. The breast ironing session may run up to 2 months

Ill effects; reasons why the practice is difficult to stop

There is little research done on the ill-effects of breast ironing. But it is generally accepted that this age-old practice causes: 1] tissue damage plus the pain of the process, 2] breast infections, 3] formation of blisters and abscesses, 4] breast cancer, 5] malformed breasts, 6] complete eradication of one or both breasts and 7] can inhibit or prevent successful breast feeding.

To consolidate these are the main reasons why this traditional practice of breast ironing proliferates in countries named above: It 1] stunts breast growth in girls, 2] lessens sexual attractiveness, 3] onset of puberty could provoke sexual harassment, 4] inhibit their daughters studies, 5] stunts their growth and 6] prevents early marriage.

Government and NGOs meet stiff resistance

Indeed there are local societies that addressed the welfare of the people there, but why were they silent about breast ironing.

Let's listen to their reasons as revealed in the survey: 1] It was thought to be good for the girls like other harmful practices done to women, and 2] even victims themselves thought and admitted it was good for them.

The German Development Agency, GTZ conducted a survey which reveals that nearly one in four or 4 million girls in Cameroon alone had undergone breast ironing. The survey covered girls and women between the age of ten and 82. Thereupon, the said agency together with a local non-government organization called RENATA launched an awareness campaign to address the problem . Through assemblies, meetings and other campaign strategies , they "warned that using the practice (breast ironing) to retard natural physical development is dangerous as well as ineffective".

According to Flavien Ndonko, an anthropologist attached to GTZ's German-Cameroon HIV-AIDS Health Programme, the "campaign has generated a lot of discussion and the practice is now openly talked about and ask why it is being done. As there is no way to justify it, they realize that it is a futile process and- hopefully- they will stop doing it".

However the awareness campaign faced a rough sailing. Addressing the general lack of education about sex in the family ran counter to acceptable social norms, GTZ and RENATA pointed out.

Explained Bessem Arrey Ebanga Bisong, Executive Secretary of RENATA, "Because the topic of sex was taboo young girls remained ignorant of how to prevent themselves from HIV infections and were even more vulnerable to the virus".

One neighbor volunteered to say, "We don't have a dialog with our children. We don't have the courage to do so".

A woman who requested anonymity, admitted that breast ironing was not a good solution. " I did it to my first 2 daughters out of ignorance"

An appraisal survey was made to determine the pros and cons of the problem. It revealed an evenly balanced result: 39% opposed it; 41% expressed support and 26% were indifferent.

Ndonko didn't express dissatisfaction over the result of the survey. He reasoned out, "If nothing was done today, tomorrow the very parents may even resolve to slice off the nose, the mouth or any part of the girl which they think is making her attractive to men"
If girls' breasts are ironed, can it reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and sexual assaults?

Meet Chi Yvonne Leina

Breast ironing is a ritual which is deeply rooted, having been handed down from generation to generation. It becomes a solid part of culture and descendants practiced it without raising an iota of doubt. Admittedly, government, local and international institutions tasked to eradicate find it a Gordian Knot.
For every problem there’s a solution. One adherent to this is a woman who believes this Gordian Knot must be cut so girls would no longer suffer the pains and consequences of having their breasts mutilated. A daughter of Cameroon, journalist, women’s rights advocate and founder of Gender Danger, a grassroots women’s organization designed to end breast ironing, Chi Yvonne Leina believes the only way to stop the practice is the need for their women to talk to each other about it. She said: “We need the silence to be broken. When we move from place to place we carry on our cultures, so anywhere where there’s a high concentration of Cameroonians I would expect it to happen.”
It is believed that Breast Ironing has been carried on to the United Kingdom, in areas with high concentration of Cameroonians it is likely to happen.

Breast ironing or flattening is one of the 5 forgotten crimes versus women, according to the UN, which estimates that about 3.8 million teens are affected. Aside from subjecting girls to burning pains while undergoing the process, breast ironing exposes them to health problems including, abscesses, infection, cysts, tissue damage and disappearance of one or both breasts.

  • Mothers and girls attend programs/seminars about breast ironing. (Photo courtesy of Chi Yvonne Leina)
  • girls have chest flattened to hide onset of puberty
  • breast ironing tools

More power to you, Chi. I hope this article helps!
Write and earn royalties here


Banana, Benin, Boiling Water, Breast Ironing, Cameroon, Chad, Fire, Grinding Stone, Hammer, Pestle, Practice Handed Down Generation, Spatula, Togo

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author avatar n.c.radomes
Retired government employee; finds hubbing, blogging on any interesting topic enjoyable.

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author avatar n.c.radomes
9th Jun 2013 (#)

johnnydod, thanks for the lightning release and publication of this piece. I'm happy!

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
9th Jun 2013 (#)

There is a movie called the Desert Flower which was released in 2009 of an American Super-Model who was circumcised at age three and sold for marriage at 13. She is Somali:

Had read about her in the Readers' Digest years earlier.

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author avatar n.c.radomes
9th Jun 2013 (#)

Lady Aiyanna, my wife and I had really relish reading Desert Flower in Readers' Digest. The horrible pain the girl had suffered for having her sex organ defaced with a crude instrument is still fresh. Your comment is appreciated and thanks for reading.

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author avatar philpalm
9th Jun 2013 (#)

n.c. radomes, in a way in America breasts are both displayed or hidden in both extremes. The topic was well chosen and should have gotten a star.

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author avatar n.c.radomes
9th Jun 2013 (#)

philpalm, thanks for the compliment.

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