Friday, August 13, 2010

The High Cost of Ignorance

Image Credit: BBC

One of my favorite quotes is Derek Bok's comment "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." I've had it on my Facebook page for years and an artist friend of mine made a shirt with the phrase for me. It has an image of a brain in a birdcage. The problem is that on this planet, oftentimes it's people that are encaged, or trapped, not just their brains. Trapped by ignorance, and at a really horrible price. And so that's the only way that I can look at things like what my friend Dana sent me this afternoon. Ignorance. Horrifying ignorance. On display still, after almost half a decade since it came to light.

Breast ironing is practiced in Cameroon by families who want to protect their daughter from having sex, being raped, or sullying the family's good name. It is accomplished by taking something really hot, like a heated wooden pestle or stones, and using it to roll and pound on an adolescent's breasts. Because if they don't have developing breasts, they clearly can't be raped or get pregnant or cause problems. You can read about breast ironing in articles from back in 2006, when it first started making a media splash. The BBC reported on it, as did a number of other organizations or online magazines like The Worldly. The Washington Post revisited the issue in March of this year. 

Mothers typically heat kitchen items and then press them onto their daughters' chests.
Image Credit: Birgit Singh for the Washington Post

Breast ironing is associated with all manner of things that do not involve teenage girls run amok and trying to have sex and getting pregnant. It's not surprisingly associated with painful damage to breast tissue, including but not at all limited to infection, inflammation, abcesses, cysts, lactation problems, deformation of breast tissue, including loss of nipples, rupture of the breast tissue and mammary glands and a whole host of horrors. There has even been mention made of the fact that injured breast tissue may be more prone to developing breast cancer.

Hermine Kedi, 21, looks at a sonogram of her breasts, now filled with painful cysts.
Image Credit: Jamie Rich for the Washington Post

In 2006, during the Bush years, US funding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was cut drastically because of the mistaken idea that UNFPA funded abortions. In fact, they fund contraception, which prevents abortions, and most importantly, which can prevent HIV. They provide sex education and women's health education throughout some of the poorest and most populous regions of the world. Some of the regions with the highest rate of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. 

If ever there was a country that needs UNFPA it is Cameroon. It needs education. It needs contraception. And it needs men who understand that any teenage girl is someone's daughter, just like their own daughter is potentially someone else's victim, too. 

Education. It can save breasts. And who doesn't like breasts? 

I urge my readers to sign Care2's petition, here. And to consider funding UNFPA. When you donate, you can specify where you want your funds to be used. Of course, it's hard to choose with so much need out there...

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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