German, Cameroonian Groups Launch 'Breast Ironing' Awareness Campaign

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Breast Ironing

The German cooperation agency GTZand the Cameroonian nongovernmental organization Network of Aunties,which supports young women with children, have launched a campaignwarning that the practice of "breast ironing" can stunt girls' naturaldevelopment and is dangerous and ineffective, IRIN News reports.

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According to IRIN News,breast ironing involves massaging breasts of young girls with a stone,hammer or heated spatula to make them disappear and prevent sexualadvances of boys and men (IRIN News, 8/27). People whoperform the practice in Cameroon could go to jail for up to three yearsif a physician determines the breasts have been damaged (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report,6/26/06). However, about 24% of girls in Cameroon have had theirbreasts ironed, including up to 53% of girls in the coastal Littoralprovince, a recent GTZ survey found. According to the survey, about 3.8million young girls are at risk of undergoing the practice.

FlavienNdonko, an anthropologist with GTZ's German-Cameroon HIV/AIDS healthprogram, said that the practice has negative health consequences and isineffective as a form of sex education. Many young girls and women withchildren have said they had their breasts ironed, which "clearlyproves" that the practice does not work as pregnancy prevention, Ndonkosaid. According to IRIN News, girls and women ages 13 to 25 account for one-third of unintended pregnancies in the country.

Ndonkosaid that because parents are often uncomfortable discussing sex withtheir children, they "prefer to get rid of the bodily signs ofsexuality." Because sex is not discussed openly, girls often areunaware of how to prevent pregnancy, or HIV and other sexuallytransmitted infections, Bessem Arrey Ebanga Bisong, executive secretaryof Network of Aunties, said. GTZ and Network of Aunties' breast ironingawareness campaign has generated discussion about the practice, Ndonkosaid. "This is a good way to resolve the problem: people talk about itand ask why it is being done," she said, adding, "As there is no way tojustify [the practice] ... hopefully, they will stop doing it" (IRIN News, 8/27).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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