Mothers “iron” their daughters with hot stones to disfigure their breasts, in an attempt to discourage male attention that could lead to rape, pregnancy, or HIV. Obviously, the practice can lead to health problems – but regardless of this, the practice remains widespread, affecting as many as a quarter of all women in the country.
Alas, such a strategy is doomed to fail – and to scar many women along the way. Ironing sends the message that victims are to blame for sexual attacks – which sets women up for significant psychological trauma, on top of the physical damage inflicted.
To affect sexual activity in any meaningful way in the long term, the best strategy is through a combination of sex education for young people (to teach them about the consequences of sexual activity) and education for parents on the dangers of the practice itself. Educating parents on the dangers involved in female genital mutilation has been successful elsewhere in Africa, giving hope that a practice seen as “traditional” can, in fact, be overcome. And in addition, the message needs to be sent that unwanted sexual predation – of anyone, and at any age – is unacceptable, and that those who perpetrate such acts are criminals.