Breast ironing, the physical abuse of a young woman’s developing breasts to ‘protect her from rape and sexual harassment’, now affects 3.8million women and girls around the world, according to a UN report.
The violent process involves stretching, squashing, cutting and pounding a young woman’s chest with hot objects, aiming to completely mutilate her breast tissue and make her look less ‘womanly’. A widespread practice in Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa, reports also suggest that, much like FGM, breast ironing is a form of hidden abuse happening in British communities too.
So why is it happening at all?
The violence is being inflicted onto girls as young as nine as parents aim to maintain their purity for marriage. In some cases, parents have even suggested that they’re actually protecting their daughters from rapists, as men are clearly not responsible for controlling their own urges.
(Top image, Channel 4, below, orijinculture.com)
In 58% of cases, the girl’s mother is the abuser (Department of Public Health Science) as she believes that removing all signs of puberty is a way to allow her daughter to pursue education for longer, rather than being seen as ‘ready for marriage’ at the age of nine.
All in all, breast ironing is another way of controlling a woman’s sexuality and, while highly emotive words like ‘tradition’ and ‘religion’ are attached to the rationale, this torture is, of course, just torture, with after-effects ranging from scarring and tissue infections to abscesses and complete removal of one or both breasts. And that’s before we even mention the psychological damage...
While awareness of FGM is at an all time high in the UK, campaigners warn that there are still many other forms of sexual violence being used against women around the world. As of yet, there have been no prosecutions relating to breast ironing in the UK, just warnings, but awareness is beginning to increase.
In March 2016 MP Jake Berry took to parliament to reveal his shock at the ‘ritualised form of child abuse.’ He called for greater moves to be taken to shift more attention towards this form of abuse, and prosecute those involved.
Margaret Nyuydzewira, founder of the CAME Women and Girls Development Organisation, a UK charity campaigning on behalf of victims, spoke to The New Day spoke of the complexities surrounding the practice.