It has been quiet in the editorial section during the last weeks. This is not because we have stopped writing them but merely because there have been so much going on. This also means that this weeks editorial will be a bit particular.
I have been finalising work on a study on the practice of breast ironing in Cameroon. Simply put it is a practice that seeks to delay or stop the development of the breast on girls, when they show the fist signs of appearing. Why is his deemed necessary? The motivations are numerous and it is not possible to generalise. However, it is possible to see that there are social, political, cultural and economic circumstances that affects the perceived need to protect the girl child by prolonging the period while she appears to be a child.
Some call the practice cultural others traditional, this may be true, it all deepens on the point of departure you take when examining the dynamics of it. Looking at cultural and social factors there are several. One of the strongest is that a girl who has already developed breast is generally considered a woman. As a woman she she is an adult and is hence expected and expects thereby herself to act as an adult.
I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop on sexual- and reproductive health for young-mothers in two villages in the eastern region of Cameroon. Some thing which was very interesting from specifically two perspectives. On the one hand it provided good and bad examples if how such a workshop can be done. On the other it helped to get an insight to some of the problems that young women in those villages experience.
For many of them lack of an income is an issue. This not in the sense that they are not able to go shopping but rather, because it makes them take risks. One common risk is to trust an older man who says that he will support the girl, help her to continue her education and provide her with a bright future. However, this in combination with a low usage of contraceptives brings with it the possibility of getting an STD or becoming pregnant.
For a young girl who becomes pregnant there are further risks and problems. First of all, there is the fact that the body is not ready to carry or deliver a child. Is despite the fact that it might have the outer-physical appearance of an adult body. Furthermore, a pregnant girl is often not viewed in a positive manner within the community which in turn generates stigmatisation, and sometimes a distance taking from the family. A pregnant girl is also likely to either drip out totally or at least miss out on a few years of her education.
Because no, the man who earlier promised the world to the girl, will not be there to support her through this. In sum it is common to find young mothers who strive to support themselves and their child/children, from whom the family has taken distance, and who had not been able to finish the obligatory stages of education.
The once I had the opportunity to speak to had a will to do things, to work hard to get an income, to finish their studies and provide for their children. The question is just how? Where do you begin when you feel like you are below zero to begin with?
Going back to where I begun, breast ironing is often perceived as a method to protect the girl child from these kinds of things, or at least delay the time when it happens. This to increase her chances of finishing her education, to be more safe, to not be seen as asexual object by her surrounding. Hence, the practice should be seen as an expression of action against threats that exists around the girl, and women. Therefore, the motivations for the practice must be taken seriously and it is them that should be targeted if we want a better and safer future for us women and girls.
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