Health activists target salons for marketing female condoms and information, making them well suited for educating women about the benefits of condoms made for women. Project supporters hope the plan will help reduce women’s exposure to the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Lameck Masina in Blantyre says Malawi’s conservative culture prohibits women from openly discussing reproductive issues. In general, condoms and other measures to prevent pregnancy and reduce sexually transmitted disease have been considered the domain of males.
But that’s changing, thanks to a new program to introduce
condoms made to be worn by women. The effort is run by the United Nations
Population Fund and an NGO called
Population Services International (PSI).
Pamela Msukwa is the family planning and HIV technical coordinator for PSI/Malawi. She says, “We are here to improve the lives of Malawians and our main goal is to reduce the rate of new HIV infections and of unplanned pregnancies in Malawi and also increase the adoption of safer sex behavior through increased and consistent use of the female condom.”
This is not the first effort to introduce the female condom. A pilot project eight years ago failed because there was not enough information on the condoms which are introduced into the cervix. Most women refused to use them, thinking they were meant for prostitutes. But the new plan – to distribute the condoms in hair salons – has been a success in other parts of the world. Msukwa says part of the success is due to the venue:
“We thought the salons or hairdressers provide a very viable and highly targeted market because most women visit the salons. that’s where they get to talk about issues, and there is always somebody they can discuss issues with. [Unlike supermarkets, for example] once [women] get information about the female condom, they can always go back to get more information.”
The organization uses a team of women to promote and distribute the
condoms. It will also train salon staff on how to talk to their customers about
the new product. Janet Sande
is the owner of a salon in the commercial capital, Blantyre. She’s making a
good profit from condom sales. A pack
of two costs about 24 US cents.
Msukwa says the positive response from the salons has spurred the organization to consider new ways of educating the public. “Right now, we are working on strategies for reaching men. The outlets that we are trying out now are the barbers, who we believe most men go to for haircuts. They will be trained on the [benefits of the] female condom [and in turn] they will be able to educate their customers about it.”
The reaction from men about women’s condoms varies. Clement Chinaka says he has no problem with his girlfriend wearing a condom. “I don’t think I would be very strict to stop her because we are in a democratic society, whereby everybody has to protect his or her life especially this time when we are having HIV/AIDS scourge. It’s up to her. She is protecting her life and I also have to protect my own life as well”.
But some men say supporting female condoms is like giving a woman approval to have multiple sex partners. Georgina Jere, a mother of two, disagrees. She says a female condom will help give women more control over their sexual health.
Female condoms are distributed by fifteen PSI country programs worldwide.PSI says they’ve been successfully introduced in neighboring countries, including Zambia and Zimbabwe. So far, more than seven million female condoms have been sold.