By Tinuola Akinsete
With so much heartbreak and pain, she sat there imagining different things women go through, ranging from molestation to various forms of abuse. And even though men also seem to have it difficult, in comparison, women have had it worse.
I have heard of female genital mutilation and other forms of gender-based violent crimes, she thought out loud, but she wondered at the discovery of something new, this one she hadn’t heard before. She cringed at the thought of the pain the girl child feels. She reflected on days the cooking pot burns her skin while cooking or how painful it is when the pressing iron or fire slightly hits her skin and how she jerks up, looking for a way to ease the pain.
Now imagine, “Breast Ironing”?
This is the disheartening reality that female teenagers and even girls as young as eight years old face in some parts of Nigeria, as a result of the inhumane practices carried out on them just for being female.
A practical description of this inhumane act is using a heated object against a girl’s breast to stop or delay its development and this heated material could be an iron, stone, cast iron, coconut shell, or hammer among others. Some wrap the breast areas tightly with a clothing material to suppress the growth of the breast or use slightly thick belts until the breasts flatten out entirely. This torture goes on for a couple of weeks till the goal is reached, regardless of the pain the girl undergoes.
The question now is, why? Why do they do this to innocent girls?
According to research done by the African Health Organisation (AHO), the belief behind breast ironing is that it “saves” young girls from rape, harassment, and early forced marriage. In other words, this act makes the girl less attractive, so she won’t be a victim of rape. But has that ever stopped abusers from attacking women and girls of all ages?
Let’s pause for a moment.
What about those who rape children who have no breasts? Does this mean women have to go through torture because of men’s inadequacies and indiscipline? Does this mean girls and women have to bear the brunt of irresponsible actions of the opposite gender? Endless questions!
This is exactly how the world we live in is wired; a world where victim has to pay for the predator’s actions. One important factor underlying the practice is that it is regarded as a form of “protection”.
This act of breast ironing affects girls and women in numerous ways. Asides from death, the practice tends to bring about various health issues such as cancer, tissue damage, abscesses, itching, and breast infections, which could interfere with breastfeeding and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.
This also affects their mental health negatively. According to mental health experts, child abuse influences the brain and results in psychological challenges. Traumatic experiences affect the child’s mental health and development. Victims face elevated stress levels, psycho-emotional problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, and some even contemplate suicide attempts.
In the year 2000, the United Nations identified breast ironing as one of the 5 intersecting forms of discrimination and overlooked crimes against women. Reuters reported in 2014 that nationwide campaign against the practice had helped reduce the rate of breast ironing by 50 percent in the country.
To this end, we need to join the campaign and intensify efforts against breast ironing, in order to stop this crime against women. Breast ironing represents a denial of the dignity of females. Also, it denies girls and women the right to live free from gender discrimination and violation. Coupled with the fact that it is often carried out without the consent of the female involved, it restricts victims’ agency, decision-making, and control over their bodies, lives, and sexuality. Let’s lend our voices as much as we can. No woman should go through so much torture to live freely.
Please, leave her breasts alone!