29 C
New York
Sunday, June 23, 2024

Breast ironing: An underreported gender-based violence

Breast ironing, also known as breast flattening, involves repetitive pounding, pressing, ironing, rubbing or massaging of a pubescent girl’s breast through the use of hard or heated object to delay growth.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), breast ironing practice is reported in African countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Togo, Guinea Bissau, West and Central Africa, Chad, Benin and Guinea Conakry.

Proponents of the controversial and extremely dangerous practice say it is done to protect young girls from unnecessary attention, harassment, abuse, rape, abduction, or forced marriage, among others.

The age-long practice, though no longer as popular as it used to be in the past, is still being practiced in some Nigerian communities.

Martha Sunday, a resident of Kpaduma village in Asokoro area, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), said
that “the act is to protect the virtue of virgin girls.”

Martha, who confirmed going through the process when she was 10 years old, explained that “breast ironing is done to protect young girls who are getting to pubertal age from unnecessary attention.

“When the breast starts sprouting as girls reach age of puberty, it attracts attention and harassment. It is a painful act, using hot hard object to rigorously massage the budding breast until it dissolves.

“I still recall the pain, and the act left me with small, disfigured breasts, with low self-esteem and difficulty in breastfeeding my babies.”

breast ironing left me with small, disfigured breasts, with low self-esteem and difficulty in breastfeeding my babies -survivor

According to the United Nations, breast ironing affects 3.8 million women around the world and has been identified as one of the five under-reported Gender-Based Violence (GBV) crimes.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which said one in every four Nigerian girls has been a victim of GBV and harmful traditional practices, said such victim might be a survivor of breast ironing.

Meanwhile, experts have described breast ironing as a form of violence against girls as it causes severe pain, tissue damage, infection and psychological trauma.

Olanike Timipa-Uge, the Executive Director of Teenage Network, a non-governmental organisation, said TN discovered the practice of the age-long tradition during one of its
interventions to transform harmful gender norms that promote violence against women and girls in some FCT communities.

She said, “It was during the girls academy programme that some of the girls opened up and told us about breast ironing. The girls said that the act, as claimed by community elders, is to protect them from men.

Also Read  I thought I had eye problem until lab tests revealed real issue -Hyperthyroidism survivor

“We did an in-depth analysis and discovered that one in three girls in Kpaduma and Pygba Sama communities had experienced breast ironing.’’

breast ironing is a form of violence against girls as it causes severe pain, tissue damage, infection and psychological trauma

According to her, the organisation, with support from various groups in the communities, embarked on sensitisation to motivate an end to the harmful traditional practice.

She said, “We went to other communities and discovered it is a common practice. So, we engaged the media and during one of our radio programmes, many callers narrated their experiences.”

However, contrary to beliefs of the proponents of the act, the negative consequences supersede the misconceived benefits. Dr. Emmanuel Tabat, a medical practitioner, said ironing prevents the breast from developing.

He told NAN that the act has adverse effects on girls, listing physical injury, pain and psychological trauma, breast infection and deformity, breastfeeding difficulty, reproductive health issues and increased breast cancer risk as some of the likely effects of the practice.

“The pounding and pressing of the breasts can lead to physical injuries such as burns, tissue damage, scarring and infections.

“Breast ironing can also result to changes in breast shape, which can have long-term physical and psychological consequences on the individual.

Some parents don’t realise that this act and many other harmful traditional practices harm girls the more

“While more research is needed in this area, some experts suggest that the repeated trauma and damage to breast tissue caused by breast ironing may increase the risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

“So, for a practice in which the intention or purpose is not achieved by the act, it is obvious that this practice causes more harm than good to the victims,’’ Dr. Tabat said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Women Affairs, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Pigba Community in Apo, FCT, for an immediate end to breast ironing practice on young girls.

The Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, while signing the MoU, stressed the need to abolish the practice, and explained its adverse effects.

She said, “Breast ironing exposes girls to numerous health problems such as cancer,
abscess, itching, and discharge of milk, infection, dissymmetry of the breast and cyst.

Also Read  My journey through stage-4 prostate cancer -Survivor Rotimi Sankore

“Others are breast infection, severe fever, tissue damage and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.”

The minister added that the act also traumatises victims and affects their general wellbeing as future mothers, thus negating President Bola Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda of ensuring the well-being of all Nigerians, including the girl child.

Pledging an end to the age-long traditional practice, the District Head of Garki Chiefdom in Abuja, Chief Emmanuel Gade, assured government that the community will put an end to the practice, in line with the policy objectives of the present administration.

On her part, the Chairperson, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), FCT chapter, Mrs. Bassey Ita-Ikpang, emphasised the need for the media to amplify the effects of breast ironing, myths and its consequences on victims.

She said, “Some parents do not realise that this act and many other harmful traditional practices do more harm than good on girls.

“There is need to amplify the negative consequences of the act in media spaces for people to know and to stop the practice.”

Consequently, Ita-Ikpang says, there is need to create more awareness about the devastating effects of carrying out such act, especially at the grassroots.

The media, government, NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have great roles to
play in ending the act through full implementation of the Child Rights Act, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) and many other instruments.

The act has been descibed as “one of the silent harmful practices” to be addressed to stop it from being passed on to generations.(NANFeature)

Justina Auta
+ posts

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected


Latest Articles