212389 Social ecology of breast ironing: The physical oppression of young girls in Cameroon

Monday, November 9, 2009

Shahnjayla K. Connors, PhD , University of South Florida College of Public Health, Department of Community and Family Health, Tampa, FL
Amina Alio, PhD , University of South Florida College of Public Health, Department of Community and Family Health, Tampa, FL
Background: Breast ironing is a practice that consists of using objects, particularly hot, to massage girls' breasts with the intention stunting breast growth in order to prevent male attention, rape, and pre-marital pregnancy. Breast ironing is inflicted on nearly 25% of pubescent Cameroonian girls resulting in physical and psychological effects.

Methods: In order to address the ritual of breast ironing, it is critical to understand the determinants contributing to the practice. Using the Social Ecology of Health Model, an extensive search of the literature was carried out including peer-reviewed journals, media, and the World Wide Web focusing on the determinants of breast ironing and local reaction to the practice.

Results: To date, only one study has been carried out on breast ironing in Cameroon in 2006. There, however, has been a variety of other sources focused on this paramount study and the subject of breast ironing. Online news articles (17), magazine articles (2), reports (3), blogs (3), and fact sheets (2), and a journal article were selected and analyzed.

Conclusions: There are countless numbers of determinants of breast ironing, from individual behaviors to societal pressures. The combination of male oppression and violence, lack of political power and security, and cultural beliefs produce a situation in which mothers turn to breast ironing as a method of protecting their daughters from harm. Local campaigns to combat the practice have been largely inefficient. Identifying and gaining a better understanding the determinants of breast ironing will inform the development of culturally appropriate interventions.

Learning Objectives:
1) To apply the Social Ecology Health Model to breast ironing in Cameroon, 2) To identify the various determinants of breast ironing, 3) To highlight implications for inventions aimed at reducing breast ironing and other harmful cultural practices impacting the health of young girls.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am currently a MPH Candidate at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health studying Socio-Health Sciences with an emphasis on social determinants of health and health disparities. My doctorate in molecular biology has allowed me to gain experience in writing publications and presenting at national conferences.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.