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Harmful practices to the female body; Part 5 Breast Ironing in Cameroon

Before this breast band, my mother used the grinding stone heated in the fire to massage my chest. Every night my mother examines my chest (and) massages me, sometimes with the pestle. Although I cry hard because of the pain, mother tells me; Endure m daughter, you are young and there is no point in having breasts at your age.”

– Josaine Matia, 11 years old (Yaounde, Cameroon).

Breast ironing is a traditional practice where the mother massages the breasts of the girls in order to postpone their development to discourage unwanted male attention, rape or pre-material pregnancy. The tools used are usually a stone, hammer or a spatula that has been heated over coals. Other instruments are also wooden pestle used for pounding tubers in the kitchen and heated bananas and coconut shells. But the ironic part is that young Cameroonian girls are still getting pregnant at an early age such as 15 and the child usually dies at birth.

Youths make up 5,5% of the population with HIV and teenage pregnancy is increasing. Among the 200 different ethnic groups with different customs and traditions, the all have breast ironing in common. In an attempt to make their daughters less attractive to boys, mothers are ironing their breasts with hot objects to prevent them from developing but it’s unfortunately with the dietary habits improving in the country the last 50 years, girls has started to reach puberty as young as 9 years old.

Consequences

Breast ironing can lead to numerous physical issues such as depression, but also burns and deformations, and there are the risk of breast cancer and cysts. It is not only extremely painful but it also causes tissue damage, which can create difficulties with breastfeeding.

If a medical doctor can determine that damage has been caused to the breasts within a few months, the perpetrators can risk up to 3 years in prison. The mothers however defend themselves that they do it out of love.

Despite the problems caused by practice of “ironing breasts”, it has not yet been banned by authorities. “The Ministry for the Promotion of Women and the Family encourages in efforts to make parents aware of the dangers of the practice. Their aim is to encourage the authorities to come up with a law in the parliament to outlaw the practice. The more educated and exposed a woman is, the less likely she is to be convinced that it is the solution and they will most likely not perform it on their daughters.

Some numbers;

*Breast ironing appears to be most widely-practiced in Cameroon. It’s more common in the Christian and animist south of the country than the Muslim north, where only 10% of women are affected.

*It also occurs in Guinea-Bissau, West and Central Africa, including Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Conakry.

*Some 24% of girls in Cameroon, about 1 girl in 4, undergo breast ironing.

*Breast ironing occurs extensively in the 10 provinces throughout Cameroon.

*A sample survey published in January 2006 of 5000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 in Cameroon, estimates that 4 million women had suffered the process.

*Today, 3.8 million teenagers are threatened with the practice.

*Up to 53% of women and girls interviewed in the coastal Littoral province in the southeast, where the country’s main port, Douala, is situated, admit to having had their breasts ‘ironed’.

*More than half (58%) of cases breast ironing were undertaken by mothers. Other relatives also participate.

Sources; German Development Assistant GTZ

Dictators of Africa – Part 5

Daniel arap Moi – Kenya  – 1978–2002

President of Kenya. Changed constitution to establish a de jure one-party state; resorted to repressive rule, including torture and imprisonment without trial.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – Equatorial Guinea – 1979–present

Chairman of the Supreme Military Council 1979-1982; President of Equatorial Guinea 1982–present. Deposed his uncle in a violent coup; opposition is banned in all but name.

José Eduardo dos Santos – Angola – 1979–present

President of Angola. One-party state; did not stand for election until 1992.

João Bernardo Vieira – Guinea-Bissau – 1980–1984 and 2005–present

Become president by a coup. Killing and exiled opposition. Famous for the Guinea-Bissau Civil War.

Samuel K. Doe – Liberia – 1980–1990

Chairman of the People’s Redemption Council 1980-1984; President of Liberia 1984-1990. Gained power in a military coup that killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr., a reformer. Promoted Krahn chauvinism and “died a multi-millionaire and proud owner of mansions and estates”.

Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe – 1980–present

Gained power through election, and repeatedly re-elected, but criticized for steps used to maintain power. From 1999 on, used police and militant groups like the War Veterans Association and Border Gezi Youth to enforce ZANU-PF policies and to prevent opponents from voting; called “king” by his aides. Arrested and tortured opponents and human rights activists; gave amnesty to murderers of his political opponents in 2000; ignores court rulings. Criticized as dictator by Desmond Tutu and Vladimir Putin.

Jerry Rawlings – Ghana – 1981–1992

Gained power in a military coup during 1979 but handed it over. Re-took power in another coup of 1981. Elected President in 1992 and again in 1996 before standing aside as per the constitution.

André Kolingba – Central African Republic – 1981–1993

Chairman of the Military Committee of National Recovery 1981-1985; President of the Central African Republic 1985-1993. Gained power in a coup; persecuted opposition; allowed (and lost) free elections in 1993. Attempted second coup in 2001.

Hosni Mubarak – Egypt – 1981–present

President of Egypt. Did not stand in a contested election until 2005, when a highly-restricted democratic process was allowed.

Paul Biya – Cameroon – 1982–present

He served under President Ahmadou Ahidjo and became Prime Minister in 1975. Ahidjo resigned on November 6, 1982 and Biya became president. After years of totalitarian rule, he allowed the creation of opposition parties in 1990 but his re-elections have been marked by widespread fraud and intimidation.

 

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