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Old 07-08-2006, 12:33 AM   #1 (permalink)
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'Breast ironing' to stunt girls' growth widespread

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'Breast ironing' to stunt girls' growth widespread

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (Reuters) -- Worried that her daughters' budding breasts would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and even rape, their mother Philomene Moungang started 'ironing' the girls' bosoms with a heated stone.

"I did it to my two girls when they were eight years old. I would take the grinding stone, heat it in the fire and press it hard on the breasts," Moungang said.

"They cried and said it was painful. But I explained that it was for their own good."

"Breast ironing" -- the use of hard or heated objects or other substances to try to stunt breast growth in girls -- is a traditional practice in West Africa, experts say.

A new survey has revealed it is shockingly widespread in Cameroon, where one in four teenagers are subjected to the traumatic process by relatives, often hoping to lessen their sexual attractiveness.

"Breast ironing is an age-old practice in Cameroon, as well as in many other countries in West and Central Africa, including Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Conakry, just to name a few," said Flavien Ndonko, an anthropologist and local representative of German development agency GTZ, which sponsored the survey.

"If society has been silent about it up to now it is because, like other harmful practices done to women such as female genital mutilation, it was thought to be good for the girl," said Ndonko.

"Even the victims themselves thought it was good for them."

However, the practice has many side-effects, including severe pain and abscesses, infections, breast cancer, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.

The survey of more than 5,000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 from throughout Cameroon, published last month, estimated that 4 million women in the central African country have suffered the process.

"You ask me why I did it?" said Moungang. "When I was growing up as a little girl my mother did it to me just as all other women in the village did it to their girl children. So I thought it was just good for me to do to my own children."

Common in town
The practice is now more common in urban areas than in villages, because mothers fear their children could be more exposed to sexual abuse in towns and try to suppress outward signs of sexuality, the survey said.

Its findings have prompted a nationwide campaign to educate mothers about its dangers and to try to eradicate it. A similar campaign some years ago helped drastically to reduce rates of female genital mutilation in Cameroon.

"A girl...has to be proud of her breasts because it is natural. It is a gift from God. Allow the breasts to grow naturally. Do not force them to disappear or appear," said a leaflet from the campaign.

Moungang said she stopped ironing her daughters' breasts after one girl developed blisters and abscesses.

"I took her to the hospital and the doctor scolded me and advised never to do it again because it could ruin my daughter," she said.

"When Mariane married and delivered her first baby, it took a long time -- about a month -- for her breasts to start producing milk and the child almost died. I was told it was because I had ironed her breasts. I was frightened."

The younger a girl develops, the more likely she is to have her bosom ironed -- 38 percent of girls developing breasts under the age of 11 had undergone the procedure.

The practice is most common in the Christian and animist South of the country, rather than in the Muslim North and Far North provinces, where only 10 percent of women are affected.

The survey found that in 58 percent of cases breast ironing was carried out by mothers worried that the onset of puberty could provoke sexual harassment, inhibit their daughters' studies or even stunt their growth.

Many mothers were alarmed because an improvement in nutrition and living conditions had caused young girls' breasts to develop earlier than ever.

Destroying breasts
"Massaging the breasts with hot objects is painful, very painful, and can completely destroy the breasts," said Bessem Ebanga, executive secretary of women's rights group RENATA, herself a former victim.

"Some girls could be traumatized throughout their lives and their sexual behavior could be disturbed forever."

Thirteen-year-old Geraldine Mbafor could not hold back her tears as she narrated her ordeal.

"I had just finished doing my homework when my mother summoned me to the kitchen. She boiled water and in the water she put a grinding stone. She then removed the stone holding it with a thick cloth to protect her hands, and placed it my breasts and started ironing them," she stated.

"I felt so much pains that I started crying. After that she bandaged my breasts with a band called breast-band ... She did this to me for two and a half months."

According to 14-year-old Amelia, who would not give her family name, her breasts started developing when she was 9. Her elder sister decided to massage them every evening with a towel soaked in hot water.

"This was very painful, and every evening before I slept, she would put a big elastic belt well fastened round my chest to flatten my breasts."

"Six months later the flesh that held my breasts was already weak. At 10, I already had fallen breasts and each time I undress I'm ashamed and it is a big complex."

Nevertheless, support for and opposition to the tradition remains evenly balanced. According to the survey, 39 percent of women opposed it, while 41 percent expressed support and 26 percent were indifferent.

For Ndonko, the campaign is a battle to respect the physical integrity of young girls -- with broader implications for human rights.

"If nothing was done today, tomorrow the very parents may even resolve to slice off the nose, the mouth or any other part of the girl which they think is making her attractive to men."
1.


2. Yes indeedy, I see the logic of this:

In order to protect your daughter from abuse from other people, you have to do it yourself. So by the time you're done with her... she's already abused, so nobody else would want to abuse her. Abuse should be kept in the family, damnit. The best way to detter abusers is, of course, by torturing their victims till they are unnatractive.

Yes, this makes perfect sense. *Bangs head against wall*

3. Can someone please explain to me how "ironing" a breast actually does anything?

Sure, you can burn flesh by putting a hot enough stone on it, but how is moderate heat supposed to do anything? It just seems like superstitious woo to me. I can't think of any properties of heat that would prevent breasts from growing.
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Old 07-08-2006, 01:07 AM   #2 (permalink)
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The story says the stones are heated in a fire and pressed on the breasts as they are developing. I suppose the combination of heat and pressure could break up the fat deposits as they're forming, and it could easily damage the ducting tissues or developing mammary glands, which aren't well protected in prepubescent girls.

My guess is that it doesn't do what it's supposed to do anyway. Rapists rape for a complex combination of reasons, only one of which is sexual attraction. Babies only a few months old and 80 year old women are raped.

It's stigmatizaion of female sexuality, a belief that women should not be sexual or enjoy their sexuality, the same motive as genital mutilation. Instead of addressing the actual problem--inappropriate sexual aggression in many males--they punish the potential victims as a preventive measure.

Ths really underscores the need to constantly be reevaluating traditions to determine if they serve any useful function. That something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it should be done that way.

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Old 07-08-2006, 02:12 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I suppose a mother worried about her daughters being targeted for sexual harrassment and rape is a more logical rationale than what I've heard for other forms of female genital mutilation, but that doesn't change my low opinion of such practices, or undermine the damage it does to its victims.

I'm on the same page as Gilda. This is about the suppression of female sexuality, and the claim that it serves as a nominal deterrant to sexual harrassment is probably just trying to cover up the true intention of the practice. I spot-on agree with those last two sentences about reevaluating traditions.
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Old 07-08-2006, 02:23 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gilda
My guess is that it doesn't do what it's supposed to do anyway. Rapists rape for a complex combination of reasons, only one of which is sexual attraction. Babies only a few months old and 80 year old women are raped.

It's stigmatizaion of female sexuality, a belief that women should not be sexual or enjoy their sexuality, the same motive as genital mutilation. Instead of addressing the actual problem--inappropriate sexual aggression in many males--they punish the potential victims as a preventive measure.

Ths really underscores the need to constantly be reevaluating traditions to determine if they serve any useful function. That something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it should be done that way.

Gilda
Yep, yep, and yep. How dare you post something so thought out and right I can do nothing except quote it. :P
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Old 07-08-2006, 02:33 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I think one of the biggest wastes of time is to loftily condemn practices from another culture through the ivory tower of your own. Cultural bigotry. It's West Africa, not Iowa. Unless you're from there, how can you possibly judge the value or morality of someone else's unique customs? IF breast ironing bothers you, then don't raise your daughters there.

That's no different than telling Scottish men to stop wearing kilts because men in your culture just don't DO that. Ewww.

Are you really suggesting that we send some kind of army of American righteous-culturists into another nation and tell them to stop doing something because it makes us uncomfortable? No wonder people hate Americans.
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Old 07-08-2006, 02:50 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I suppose it becomes a sensitive area (no pun intended) when these traditions target the sexual psychology of women and children. While I can't say I mind ritual scarification or piercing as a rite of passage (although it's done in less than sanitary conditions), I won't in the same breath condone female circumcision or this "breast ironing," even if people claim that it serves the same purpose.

This is the first I've heard of this particular practice, but it seems unfortunate that the women in that area of the world are so affected by what was done to them in their youths that they feel the need to do it to their own children, "for their own good," without understanding the dangers of such practices or the psychological effects on their kids. A reevaluation of tradition doesn't mean the destruction of all cultural practices.
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Old 07-08-2006, 04:14 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Cultural differences aside, mutilating a child is not the same as deciding whether to wear a skirt or pants :-)
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Old 07-08-2006, 05:13 AM   #8 (permalink)
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warrrreagl, I'm not sure that you could tell from the article, but upon reading it a second time, it's clear that it's not a band of purist Americans that is trying to induce change.

these girls' doctors - in their own villages - are recommending a stop to the practice. It is a health concern: inability to create breast milk, loss of breast, and breast cancer are dangerous problems.

What is the harm in wealthy Americans choosing to fund a campaign that interests them? Should it make a difference that it's in another country? I don't see a problem with it. Their resources; their choice. As a country, we're not declaring war on Camaroon over their female genitalia mutilation or breast ironing.
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Old 07-08-2006, 09:39 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Wow, how disgusting that people aren't able to think for logically for themselves and get past superstition and old wives tales.
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Old 07-08-2006, 10:00 AM   #10 (permalink)
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This story along with others that document female mutilation are just barbaric. How as a parent you could put your child through something like this is beyond me....
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Old 07-08-2006, 10:19 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Excellent post, Gilda. I couldn't agree more.


This issue seems to be a combination of 1) the overprotective nature of certian individuals, espically parents who were not raised understanding healthy boundries so far as protection 2) a true and striking lack of empathy 3) a misunderstanding of normal social interaction between males and females 4) irrational fear of intamacy which is fundamentally linked to 5) ultra-puritanic views towards sexuality (e.i. sex is da debil!!) 6) unhealthy vicarious relationship between mother and daughter 7) a gross misuse of geology.

Child abuse is a very serious crime, and should always be reported to the proper authorities.
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Old 07-08-2006, 10:33 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warrrreagl
That's no different than telling Scottish men to stop wearing kilts because men in your culture just don't DO that. Ewww.
You really think this is about America instead of these young girls possibly being fucked up enough to have an inability to create breast milk, or to have permanent breast damage, or even breast cancer? This isn't about cultural superiority; it's about humane treatment for young humans.
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Old 07-08-2006, 10:38 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warrrreagl
That's no different than telling Scottish men to stop wearing kilts because men in your culture just don't DO that.
Kilts don't repeatedly crush your balls with fire heated stones as you're growing up, so I'd say the comparison isn't apt. As a matter of fact, I think more people should wear kilts. We should have an army of Scottish rightous-culturists who can educate the world on the wonders of the kilt. That's a movement I can see myself joining. KILTS FOR ALL, BAGPIPES FOR SOME!!!

I see this as being comparable to things like vaginal mutulation. It's obviously abusive, whether it's culturally based or not.

Last edited by Willravel; 07-08-2006 at 12:25 PM.. Reason: not automerged post
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Old 07-08-2006, 11:21 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warrrreagl
I think one of the biggest wastes of time is to loftily condemn practices from another culture through the ivory tower of your own....... IF breast ironing bothers you, then don't raise your daughters there.
We are all aware that opposites attract, and this is a classic albeit distasteful example.

My husband has decided to display an ignorance that is better left planted in the deep recesses of the mind. I do apologize.

If Warrrreagl chose to practice such blantant cultural tolerance in his everyday life I would choose to be somewhat tolerant of this display of stupidity. However, he does not. He has very vocal opinions on cell phone usage, multiple piercings, tattoos, hairstyles, driving habits, and the list goes on......

After he told me what he posted I chose to avoid an argument on a beautiful Saturday and post my opinion in this area of free expression to insure that anyone who does know that I am legally attached to him, including Warrrreagl, would not remotely consider that I condone this unbalanced opinion that he has expressed. Do have a nice day.
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Old 07-08-2006, 05:30 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warrrreagl
I think one of the biggest wastes of time is to loftily condemn practices from another culture through the ivory tower of your own. Cultural bigotry. It's West Africa, not Iowa. Unless you're from there, how can you possibly judge the value or morality of someone else's unique customs? IF breast ironing bothers you, then don't raise your daughters there.

That's no different than telling Scottish men to stop wearing kilts because men in your culture just don't DO that. Ewww.

Are you really suggesting that we send some kind of army of American righteous-culturists into another nation and tell them to stop doing something because it makes us uncomfortable? No wonder people hate Americans.
Nobody is suggesting that we invade and change their culture, but it's perfectly acceptable to condemn mutilation that is part of a culture. This is clearly harmful and has potential to affect half of a country's population, therefore it is worthy of discussion and condemnation. Is it cultural bigotry if I condemn cultures that allow public mass executions of women whose crimes include showing their faces, having sex before marriage, or being raped (leaving them unpure)? It's part of Islamic exremist culture, so does that mean it should be immune to criticism based on my "cultural bigotry"? What if I say that gassing jews, homosexuals, and non-aryans was just part of Nazi culture and therefore you can't condemn it? (lol Godwin's Law.) Where does cultural bigotry end and observation of human rights begin?
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Old 07-08-2006, 05:35 PM   #16 (permalink)
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It is valid to criticise some practices - on purely medical grounds.

As with the poster above, I believe the comparison with kilts is miguided (or just sloppy). Forms of clothing or behaviour are in a different class than medical/physical procedures - and have less permanant effects. They are also less painful.

But while rejecting those arguments - I would still agree that we have to be somewhat careful in criticising other cultures. We should remember that these people have not been given the education that we have (mine was free) and live in different circumstances. The people carrying these actions out, while misguided, seem well-meaning.

We should also I believe continue to question the problematic areas of our own cultures, medical practices and behaviours. If we don't do that then we have no right to make suggestions to others.
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