The next video shows us how culturally engraved this practice is in Cameroon, and how it is practiced all over the country.
The association RENATA fights against the practice and says that the best way to stop breast ironing or breast flattening is sexual education.
ProMosaik e.V. is convinced that this is the way to go.
Then this is the best strategy to avoid undesired pregnancy as well.
However, it is also important to talk about it outside Cameroun, because breast ironing is not just a regional violation against girls’ and women’s rights, but a general problem.
All over the world women are raped.
This is the root of the problem.
Breast ironing is just a pseudo-solution we have to stop.
But what we have to fight is the rape.
thank you for sharing our videos tonight.
Dr. phil. Milena Rampoldi – ProMosaik e.V.
This is Cameroon in West Africa, a
country of 16 million people. I’ve come here to find out about a practice which
affects a quarter of all women in Cameroon: Breast Ironing.
Like in many countries in Africa,
teenage pregnancy is high here, forcing many girls to abandon their education.
But in Cameroon, mothers have been taking drastic action to stop their
daughters getting pregnant. They have been pressing down their breasts with hot
stones to stop them attracting men. Lisette Winker had her breast ironed when
she was 9 years old. She now works for Renata, the only organisation in
Cameroon who was speaking out against the practice.
Today she is visiting the primary
school in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé.
“Who can read this?
Breast ironing is a traditional
practice that is always done in villages. It’s a traditional practice whereby
the breasts of a young girl, whenever the breasts are growing, small breasts
like that, when they are growing. Our parents use hot objects, to massage the
breasts, to press the breast so that they do not grow. If an iron burns you,
it’s hot right? Then imagine a hot stone, placed on your bear breasts. It
burns, right? And wounds your breasts, right?”
Many of these children have already
come across breast ironing in their homes.
“They pressed your sister’s
breasts two times? She’s crying, right?
The practice is especially common
among girls who develop under the age of nine. Half of them have their breasts
ironed. And in Cameroon, girls have started to go through puberty younger. Over
the past 50 years diets have improved prompting earlier sexual development.
This in turn has triggered the dramatic rise of breast ironing and its harmful
consequences. Breast ironing exposes girls to numerous health problems, such as
burns, deformities, abscesses and even the disappearance of one or both
“These are the consequences of
breast ironing. Look at the pictures, it’s a horrible picture. So my own are
almost like this. Although one side of the breast is formed, it’s not always
disturbing me. But the other one most of the time is very painful, the left
When she was 9 years old Lisette’s
breasts were ironed, causing permanent damage. She was told that it was for her
“That is not the best way of
educating a child. When you want to do something like that. It should not be
under the canopy of protection. Because I don’t think they were protecting me.
Because they really destroyed me. Whenever they saw me with a boy, a friend,
they would only think that I was already having sex with [him]. But no,
forgetting the fact that they need to talk to me, that this is what I should
do, this is what I should not do.”
The changing roles of women in
Cameroon have proved a double-edged sword. As more girls are getting an
education, mothers are increasingly afraid of early pregnancy and turn to
ironing as a solution.
Anthropologist, Dr. Flavian N’Dongo,
believes that the problem of breast ironing is being worsened by the lack of
“It is normal that any parents
are afraid, that when you have a girl child, you are concerned that maybe she
can become pregnant at any time. And no parents want this. Either you go to a
sexual health unit, or a reproductive health unit, where the girl can get
information. Or you get it in school, but there is nothing being done. So
parents just feel ‘What should I do now? Maybe, if I remove the signs of
sexuality in the body, then that body will attract nobody, for some time.'”.
Despite the campaign many mothers
are still ironing their daughters’ breasts. I went to visit a mother that lived
in the outskirts of the city.
Monica […] here with her family.
She has recently been ironing her daughter’s […] breasts and sees nothing
wrong with it.
“I didn’t want my daughter’s
breasts to grow, so I used this stone to press her breasts. So how I pressed
them, I made a fire a then ironed them, I ironed them for two months. Everyday,
I would use it two times a day. So when I ironed them she would cry. But I
still ironed them. Because men usually go after the girls for their breasts. Because
when her breasts are big, they would think the time is right to have sex with
her. I’d like to see my child at a stage where she would be able to look after
her own child. I don’t agree with it because I will suffer. If my child has a
baby I will have to look after it as my own.
-What if someone told you that what
you are doing is wrong?
-No me, I would not agree. I would
not agree. Because this is something my mother did for me. I would tell them to
go, I will only do things my own way.
-What would you do if her breasts
started growing back?
-I would still press them again.
When you make it you have to test
it. So it’s not over warm. It’s correct now.”
Monica wanted to show me how she did
it, but […] was clearly traumatised by the experience and I asked her to
stop. I asked her if that’s how […] normally reacted.
“Yes, yes. She would cry and
run, but I would hold her.”
Breast ironing has become engraved
in Cameroonian culture and in the absence of adequate sex education and the
failure of the government to publicly acknowledge that the problem exists, one
in four girls here will continue to have their breasts ironed.