While men and women alike develop breasts, the biological purpose that distinguishes women's breasts from men's breasts is that women's breasts serve the primary function of feeding and nourishing an infant child. A woman does not develop breasts to flaunt them or for enticement. The hyper sexualization of women's breasts, however, have resulted in violent measures against the development of women's breasts under the pretext of protection, as in the breast ironing ritual that is widespread in Central and West Africa and endemic in the UK.
Breast ironing, the kneading of a girl's breasts using hot objects such as hot stones, hammers, and spatulas, twice a day for weeks or months to burn the breast tissue hence stunting their natural development, is a practice done with the belief that it will offset her perceived sexual attractiveness. Parents believe it will protect girls from rape, sexual harassment, and early pregnancy, thereby allowing girls to continue their education.
Essentially, the flattening is conducted by female family members when the girl hits puberty. The consequences of the flattening include scarring, cysts, breast cancer, and breastfeeding issues, in addition to the psychological trauma associated with the practice.
"Breast ironing is just another way to control a woman’s sexuality and perceived attractiveness. Breasts become a dangerous body part that must be removed in case they attract male attention, as if removing all signs of femininity from a girl’s body could protect her from being raped," writes Leyla Hussein, an anti-FGM campaigner and psychotherapist, on the Cosmopolitan blog.
We inhabit a world where men are not held culpable for their urges and actions while women face abhorrent, violent procedures to the point that they, eventually, feel an aversion to their own bodies simply because the natural state of their bodies are 'scandalous' and 'indiscreet'.
The issue at this point is the lack of awareness surrounding the issue. The UNFPA has listed breast ironing as one of five under-reported crimes related to gender-based violence.
Fortunately, there exists movements to combat the prejudice. Cawodigo, a London-based charity, campaigns to raise awareness about breast ironing. "The girl believes that what her mother is doing is for her own good and she keeps silent," they write on their website. "This silence perpetuates the phenomenon and all of its consequences."