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Breast Ironing/Flattening

Hey SHAKE Family,

The topic of the day - Breast Ironing. Breast ironing is often not spoken about and many people don't know it exists. The SHAKE AFRICA Project is bringing you information on what exactly this practice is.

According to the United Nations, 3.8 million teenagers worldwide have been affected by breast flattening. It is estimated that about 1000 girls from West African communities resident in the UK have been subjected to the practice but the figure could be much higher.

Key Facts

Breast ironing has been identified as one of the five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence
  • Breast Ironing affects 3.8 million women around the world and has been identified as one of the five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.

  • The practice is commonly performed by family members, 58% of the time by the mother.

  • Estimates range between 25% and 50% of girls in Cameroon are affected by breast ironing, affecting up to 3.8 million women across Africa.

  • Around 1,000 9–15 year old girls in the UK are currently thought to be at risk of breast ironing

What is Breast Ironing/Flattening?

  • The practice by which the breasts of young pubescent girls are ironed, massaged, flattened and/or pounded down over a period of time (sometimes for years) to prevent growth, cause them to disappear or delay early development.

  • It can be a very painful and an agonising experience for the victim with negative health consequences.

  • While reports on the horrors of female genital mutilation, forced marriages are widely known, not much can be said of breast ironing globally.

What exactly does it entail?

Breast ironing can start as young as nine years old
  • It involves the use of a hammer, spatula or large stones heated over scorching coals to compress the breast tissue.

  • In other instances, an elastic belt, breast bands or binder is used to press the breasts to prevent them from growing.

  • Breast flattening usually starts with the first signs of puberty which can be as young as nine years old and is usually carried out by female relatives under the ‘misguided intention’ of protecting her from rape and sexual harassment.

Why is it practised?

Some have used breast ironing to protect young girls from the rising cases of rape and abduction by men of the underworld.

In many cases, the abuser thinks they are doing something good for the child by delaying the effects of puberty. Generally, the practice is aimed at:

  • making teenage girls look less “womanly”

  • preventing pregnancy and rape

  • enabling the girl to continue her education

  • preventing dishonour being brought upon the family if the girl begins sexual relations outside of marriage

  • deter unwanted attention

  • In December 2015, a new report revealed that some mothers in some communities in Adamawa and Cross river states in Nigeria respectively have intensified the practice of breast ironing for their young girls to protect them from the rising cases of rape and abduction by men of the underworld.

The Scourge of Breast Ironing

No religion prescribes this practice nor promotes it. Breast ironing is a a form of women perpetrated violence and mutilation on girls
  • Like FGM, many of the beliefs are related to cultural beliefs.

  • It is often perpetuated and sustained by women, generally mothers and other women in the family or the community.

  • No one talks about it and is a well-preserved secret between mother (practitioner) and girl child.

  • In communities where it is practiced, it is often done with mistaken ‘best protective intentions’ clouded and justified by culture, custom and religion. It must be said that no religion prescribes this practice nor promotes it; it is simply a ritual of girl-child abuse and violence against her body - a form of women perpetrated violence and mutilation on girls.

We hope this blog shed some light on breast ironing and the extent of the problem.

Talk soon!

The SHAKE Africa Project


Ijeoma is the Monitoring and Evaluation officer at The SHAKE Africa Project and an MPH in sexual and reproductive health candidate.

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1 commentaire

Temitope Ifegbesan
Temitope Ifegbesan
11 sept. 2020

I am filled with rage at some of the madness practiced in Africa in the name of culture. How on earth do you protect someone by harming them?

Has anyone thought of protecting the girls by castrating (possible) rapists? Or doing some 'penis ironing' on rapists?

Why must girls always pay, even in advance, for the future injustices that will be meted on them. 😠

Which breast does the 6 month-old baby who was sexually molested have? This just shows that the people perpetrating this barbaric act are as thoughtless as the reasons given to justify it.

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