This blog was published in partnership with the UK-based, black feminist organisation Imkaan, to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 

The United Nations estimates that up to 3.8 million girls worldwide are affected by Breast Ironing - a form of abuse which uses heated objects, including stones and hammers, to flatten a girl's breasts and stop them from developing. It's typically carried out when the girls are aged between 11 and 15, as they enter puberty, and is often done by the victim's own family under the misguided intention of protecting her from rape and sexual harassment.

It is thought that about 1,000 girls in West African communities across the UK have been subjected to the practice, but the figure could be much higher. There is no specific law banning breast ironing in the UK and no-one has ever been prosecuted for carrying out the practice.

Came Women and Girls Development Organisation is a community-based diaspora organisation dedicated to improving the health and well-being of a variety of people from disadvantaged communities, Black and Minority Ethnic groups, develop their potential and mobilise them to engage effectively in community development and regeneration activities and build their capacities. They have been active in the fight against Breast Ironing, and talked to the Fawcett Society about their work tackling this issue.

Came Women and Girls Development Organisation is active in advocating for the end of gender based violence, and Breast Ironing in particular. What inspires your organisation to do this work?

Geraldine: Came Women and Girls Development Organisation has been inspired by our background knowledge in this issue, and the joy we get in believing in the possibility of making every girl and woman free from gender based violence, through changing the mind frames of the perpetrators of this violence and stopping cultural migration.

We took inspiration from the emphasis the UK is placing on tackling FGM; Breast Ironing is similar to FGM, and is often carried out for the same reasons.

Our objectives and mission to relentlessly embark on the different avenues and various methods in the fight against VAWG. In our efforts to promote the basic rights and well being we focused on bringing holistic awareness to Breast Ironing, which has very high risk and detrimental long term consequences, but for which there is a massive lack of knowledge in the UK. We took inspiration from the emphasis the UK is placing on tackling FGM; Breast Ironing is similar to FGM, and is often carried out for the same reasons. They are both horrific and abhorrent abusive cultural practices that inflict a lot of pain and are utterly discriminatory against young girls.

How do you campaign against a form of abuse which is considered acceptable in some cultures?

Our campaign strategy against such forms of abuse, that are sacrosanct cultural norms, is forming strong alliances through our diaspora networking and partnership with like minded organisations. Our awareness and advocacy model are designed to tackle the likely resistance to change by engaging the survivors and the practising communities/cultural group with a lot of credible information about the very detrimental damaging effects. These methods have had a very impressive impact, as even the mothers and relations that are responsible now see how the survivors suffer. They are even taking it upon themselves to reach out and educate their communities back in Africa, teaching mother unions and young girls to say no to this abuse and all forms of abuse and discrimination.

What changes in the UK, whether practice or law reform, are you campaigning for?

The initial change is to change the mindset of the practising communities, and to work with survivors through counselling and  empowering them to be ambassadors in the diaspora to fight this abhorrent and traumatic abuse, in order to deter the migration with abusive cultural practices.

We are relying on The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women to eventually include Breast Ironing punishable in the 2010 Equality Act.

Our hope is that Breast Ironing will be given the same attention and statutory status as FGM. We will continue our work to be well renowned for our work in the women’s sector, working  passionately  to end violence against women and girls, and we are relying on The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to eventually include Breast Ironing punishable in the 2010 Equality Act.

What has been the biggest success in your advocacy work so far?

Our biggest success is the keen response we have had so far from the wider public, who have taken a lot of interest in this hidden practice. Before our launch in 2010, this practice  was never mentioned or talked about. Since then we have seen a very keen interest in a lot of diaspora organisations and a lot of publicity by organisations like the BBC, Sky News, and local radio station and papers. We are called upon by medical groups, our local borough councils and universities to do presentations to raise awareness of this issue.

We were particularly joyful when we were invited to parliament by the MP Jake Berry and the Home Secretary. They made a good presentation and appeal for Breast Ironing to be closely looked into by the police and social services , including the prevalence of it in the UK and making it a criminal  offence.

We also see our success as talking to mainstream organisation to work on safeguarding issues and policy and also you taking an interest in our awareness and advocacy campaign!

What can someone do if they want to help campaign on this issue?

The main way to help is to help raise awareness and educate communities on this form of violence against women and girls, whether it is called Breast Ironing, Breast Sweeping or Breast Flattening. We work with organisations across the UK to do this, and we would encourage someone who is looking to help to get in touch with a local organisation to help with this.

Find out more about how to support Came Women and Girls Development Organisation through their website here.