Breast Ironing in Cameroon Thesis

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Breast Ironing in Cameroon

Sexual mutilations have a long and controversial history. Sexual mutilations include a diverse variety of practices, including male circumcision, breast removal, clitorectomy, female genital mutilations, castration, cosmetic surgeries targeting sexual organs, and breast ironing. While each of these practices may seem barbaric to people outside of the culture, they generally have strong in-cultural support, which makes it difficult to eradicate these practices. These body modifications are practiced for a variety of different reasons, and, those reasons can vary tremendously. For example, breast ironing is allegedly practiced to make girls less desirable to men, thereby preventing adolescent girls from prematurely engaging in sexual behavior. However, breast augmentation, another form of sexual mutilation, is performed to make females more attractive, and, therefore, one would assume more likely to engage in sexual behavior. Regardless of the individual characteristics of sexual mutilation, they are frequently met with expressions of outrage and bewilderment by people outside of the perpetrating community, but with acceptance by people within the community. This is certainly the case for breast-ironing, a practice that seems repulsive and dangerous to the people who do not practice it, but appears to be a prophylactic and protective measure by the mothers who inflict it upon their young girls.

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TOPIC: Thesis on Breast Ironing in Cameroon Assignment

While many forms of sexual mutilation are aimed at changing genitalia, breast ironing is aimed at changing the shape of a girl's breasts. As the name suggests, breast ironing refers to attempts to flatten a girl's breast. The practice usually begins with the onset of puberty, when girls begin to form breasts. The flattening can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways, but generally involves the use of some sort of coal-heated tool rubbed on a girl's breasts. It is not uncommon for the person doing the flattening to use a grinding instrument, such as a grindstone or pestle, to abrade the area when attempting to flatten the breast. In addition to the immediate effect of breast ironing, breast ironing creates a large possibility of negative long-term and short-term side effects. It "exposes girls to numerous health problems such as abscesses, infections, dissymmetry of the breasts, cysts, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts."


Breast ironing is mainly practiced in the small African country of Cameroon. "It is also practiced in countries such as Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Togo, Benin, and Guinea." However, those countries do not have the same rate of breast ironing, and share similar cultural justifications with the people of Cameroon for the breast ironing.

Therefore, to understand breast ironing, one must understand its background cultural context. From a modern historical perspective, it seems fair to conclude that the Bakas (Pygmies) were the first inhabitants of Cameroon, and they still inhabit parts of southern and eastern Cameroon. The Bakas were followed by the Bantu, and then the Fulani. The first Europeans in Cameroon were the Portuguese in the 1500s, and European involvement from that time to the late 1870s was focused on the slave trade and coastal trade with natives. In the late 19th century, Christian missionaries established missions in Cameroon. In 1884, Cameroon became part of the German colony of Kamerun. The area remained under German control until the League of Nations mandate in 1919, which partitioned it between Britain and France. In 1955, the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), which was mainly composed of the Bamileke and Bassa ethnic groups, began the struggle for independence. In 1960, French Cameroon gained independence and became the Republic of Cameroon. The Southern third of British Cameroon, which was largely Christian, joined the Republic of Cameroon and formed the Federal Republic of Cameroon. However, the British and French regions retained some autonomy. In 1972, the federation became a unitary state. Currently, Cameroon is ruled by former Prime Minister Paul Biya, a member of the Bulu-Beti ethnic group. Biya has been president since 1982 and his party holds a majority in the legislature, as well.

Today, Cameroon is relatively ethnically diverse. It is composed of 31% Cameroon Highlanders, 19% Equatorial Bantu, 11% Kirdi, 10% Fulani, 8% Northwestern Bantu, 7% Eastern Nigritic, 13% other Africans, and less than 1% non-Africans. As one might expect given its ethnic diversity, in Cameroon they speak French, English, and languages from 24 different major African language groups. The country is religiously diverse as well with 40% of people practicing indigenous beliefs, 40% Christian, and 20% Muslim. Like most other African countries, Cameroon has been devastated by HIV / AIDS, so that the average life expectancy is only 53.3 years.

From an international perspective, Cameroon has several human rights issues. One of the most significant of those may be that:

Cameroon is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation; most victims are children trafficked within country, with girls primarily trafficked for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation; both boys and girls are also trafficked within Cameroon for forced labor in sweatshops, bars, restaurants, and on tea and cocoa plantations; children are trafficked into Cameroon from neighboring states for forced labor in agriculture, fishing, street vending, and spare-parts shops; Cameroon is a transit country for children trafficked between Gabon and Nigeria, and from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia; it is a source country for women transported by sex-trafficking rings to Europe.

In addition, Cameroon's security forces committed numerous unlawful killings, torture, and beatings. Furthermore, the law provides for the arrest of homosexuals and those not carrying identification cards. The government restricts the rights to free speech, press, assembly, and association.

In addition, Cameroon is an impoverished country:

Cameroon is overwhelmingly poor, with a mainly agricultural economy. Although the country earned significant debt relief under the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, the resources released by the program have not been diverted to antipoverty efforts. Unemployment hovers around 20%, and Cameroon was ranked 144 out of 177 countries in the UN Development Programme's 2007 Human Development Index.

Although Cameroon is a poor country, there is potential for it to improve its economic situation. For example, since 1995, Cameroon has been a member of the World Trade Organization. However, it has not proven competitive internationally because "the absence of a competition regime and the transfer of monopolies from state-owned enterprises to private sector have contributed to maintaining prices high; this affects the competitiveness of the country's goods and services."

Other Sexual Mutilations

Though breast ironing may be mostly limited to Cameroon, sexual mutilation is rampant in Africa. The most well-known and horrifying of these sexual mutilations may be female genital mutilation. According to the World Health Organization:

Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women. Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths. It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Internationally, there is much greater awareness of female genital mutilation than there is of the practice of breast ironing. Moreover, the international reaction to this practice, which creates irreversible physical and psychological damage to the victims, has been absolute horror at the practices, though they were not considered sex-based violence or torture by an internationally recognized group until 1995. Despite the strong international reaction to this practice, the fact is that it continues to exist. In order to understand how such a practice that is internationally recognized as a human rights violation can continue unabated, one must understand the reasons that female genital mutilations are performed:

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities. Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice. FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behavior, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is believed by some to reduce a woman's libido and help her resist "illicit" sexual acts...FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are "clean" and "beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean." Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support. Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination. Local structures of power and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Breast Ironing in Cameroon" Thesis in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Breast Ironing in Cameroon.  (2008, October 26).  Retrieved December 2, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Breast Ironing in Cameroon."  26 October 2008.  Web.  2 December 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Breast Ironing in Cameroon."  October 26, 2008.  Accessed December 2, 2021.