Female condoms still face resistance

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ALMOST two decades have elapsed since the female condom was introduced in Zimbabwe, but its use remains low.
Introduced in 1997 by Population Services International (PSI), the female condom also known as the ‘femidom’ remains the only female-initiated means of preventing both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
Evidence from both laboratory and population-based studies, show that the female condom is as effective as the male condom in preventing HIV and AIDS.
Despite evidence of its effectiveness, the female condom has continued to face resistance from both women and men.
Statistics availed by Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) revealed that in every 40 male condoms used; there is only one female condom.
Stakeholders say the wide female condom gap exists primarily due to lack of support and programming of female condom introduction.
Addressing journalists at a seminar on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, executive director for Women Acting Group, Edinah Masiyiwa said there was need for extensive civic education in order for Zimbabweans to understand the great benefits attached to female condom use as a way of improving uptake.
“Low female condom consumption is contributing to the transmission of HIV in the country,” said Masiyiwa.
“Currently, facts indicate that youths are becoming sexually active as young as 10 and it’s high time stakeholders embarked on early information dissemination on condom use and benefits particularly female condom.”
Information gathered by The Patriot showed that another factor leading to low female condom use is the practicality of the condom itself.
Women need to wear it at least not less than 30 minutes before sexual intercourse for it to adapt to the amatory.
“Sex workers, who are one of the most vulnerable group to HIV and AIDS, may find the condom unpractical as men lose trust in them if they are found already wearing a condom when meeting their clients,” Masiyiwa said.
Social norms and misconceptions have been noted as some of the factors limiting the acceptability of the female condom.
Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN) information officer, Evince Mugumbate said low female condom use was caused by traditional patriarchal and cultural issues.
“Women in our society have not much say on their sex and reproductive rights as most of them are not economically empowered as such they succumb to decisions men make in relation to sex matters which in most cases exclude the female condom use,” explained Mugumbate.
However, communities attributed poor female condom use to a number of myths while others said they were not user friendly especially when being inserted.
Tawanda Sengwayo (38), said most people held the belief that the female condom was meant for sex workers.
“Women who use or carry the female condom are labelled loose,” said Sengwayo.
“I would not accept a girl who carries a female condom, it is for sex workers.”
Kelvin Chimona (29), said he would feel more comfortable seeing a girl carrying or using female condoms rather than moving around with male condoms
“The problem is that when it comes to matters of sex talk, only few people open up and where condoms are concerned, most of them want to act ‘holy’,” he said.
Tino Moyo (25), said the female condom was not user-friendly.
“I can’t properly use the female condom as it’s too big and not easy to insert,” said Moyo.
“I once tried to use the femidom, but I went through hard times inserting it.”
However, Mugumbate said all these myths and misconceptions are unfounded.
She said the femidom was more user-friendly and had many advantages over the male condom.
“Issues of promiscuity, coupled with traditional and cultural issues, need to be clearly explained and articulated to the communities if the product is to be accepted,” she said.
“The femidom adapts to the temperature of the female organ and makes sexual intercourse feel very natural as if there’s no condom.”
What has made uptake and use of the condom even lower is that it can be reused, up to seven times.
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) illustrates that after repeated washings and reuse, the female condom remains structurally intact.
“Likewise a one-minute soak in a 1-20 dilution of bleach water successfully inactivates the organisms that cause HIV infections, in addition to other STIs,” reads the study.
Some men, especially those who engage commercial sex workers, said they despised the female condom as it compromised their safety.
Clearly if the female condom is to be accepted in communities, stakeholders involved in civic education and distribution have a tall order.

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