I’ve been blogging about breast ironing (the horrifying practice of burning adolescent girls’ breasts with hot stones by their own mothers to inhibit growth) in Cameroon for over a year now, and while the UK Government (see letter below) are actively working with Cameroon to help stem the many human rights abuses there, girls in Cameroon need immediate intervention to stop the abuses now.
The Association of Aunties – a small group of Cameroonian women working with at risk families – are dedicated to stopping breast ironing at its source. By educating young women and their mothers about their sexual health, they are making an immediate difference to the lives of girls in a way recommended regulations and collections of signatures simply cannot.
One Auntie, Georgette Taku said “They (mothers) only resort to some actions, some practices to try to help the girl. It’s better to talk to your daughter — that’s why we teach the mothers even things like puberty.”
Because the most heart breaking thing about the abuse – which affects an estimated one in four Cameroonian girls – is that it is done out of a misguided love. By inhibiting the development of their breasts, the mothers hope to delay sexual maturity and stave off teenage pregnancy, enabling girls to stay in school longer. Georgette Taku, a Cameroonian Auntie, says “If you ask mothers who are doing breast ironing on their daughters, they will tell you that, ‘no I’m doing it because I want to help her, I want to protect her from men’.
“(But) even though they had the breasts ironed they grew up ignorant when it came to pregnancy, HIV and other sexual diseases because the mothers were not talking with them.”
What the Association of Aunties understands – as sometimes even our own politicians (Nadine Dorries, anyone…?) struggle to – is that the only way to prevent teen pregnancy and the transmission of STIs like HIV, is through frank, open and honest education and discussion of sexual health with children and young people.
There are no words to describe my complete admiration for these women, for tackling a horrific problem with such an immediate and pragmatic solution. They are an inspiration, and I hope they get the support and resources they need to eradicate the process for good.
N.B: I’ve been struggling to find a way of donating to the Association of Aunties – if anyone can tell me how, do comment below. It’s not easy to help fight this sort of thing from so far away, but at least in donating we may be able to help them fight it for us.