Making female condoms accessible, available and affordable for all women and men—that’s what the Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC) Joint Programme aims to accomplish.
The UAFC Joint Programme was strongly represented at the International Aids Conference (IAC) in Vienna. In a week’s time, we informed over 2000 men and women about female condoms, how to use them, why they are so important, and what people can do to help us advocate. During poster presentations, press conferences, workshops and demonstrations, we stressed the importance of ensuring that men and women have a variety of products from which to choose, both to give women choice as well as to create competition and thus lower prices. In the Global Village Condomize Zone, next to the Female Condom 2 (FC2) we demonstrated the VA WOW condom (also known as Reddy and currently on the market) and the Woman’s Condom (made by Path/Dahua and not yet on the market).
Many visitors had never seen a female condom before, and most who had were only familiar with the FC2. Only very few had seen the VA WOW. The Women’s Condom was new to everyone, but many – both users and non-users, enthusiastic and skeptics – said they would definitely try it once it is available on the market. Interest in the other female condoms was high as well. The complaint most uttered was that the condoms are very hard to find or not available at all. Demand, we can conclude, is not the problem. Instead, we face accessibility, availability and affordability problems. More attention for and investment in female condoms is therefore justified and necessary.
However, during the IAC, attention for the female condom’s potential was overshadowed in the media and plenary by the results of the Microbicide trials. The tested Tenifor vaginal gel was reported to reduce the risk of a HIV infection by 39 percent (average; consistent use: 54 percent). This gives hope for the future: if effectiveness can be increased, a 2nd woman-initiated method that protects against HIV —in addition to the female condom— can be added to the package. This is a good thing, both in the fight against AIDS (MDG 6) and for the emancipation of women (MDG 3). The latter in particular because both methods increase the power of women to negotiate and/or control safe sex: they have to be negotiated only once, after which a woman can insert condom or gel every time before having sex, knowing she has the consent of her partner and will not have to depend on him for protection. Microbicide, like the pill, could even be used secretly. This can be a great advantage in unequal and/or violent relationships, but will not help to improve equality, which consensual use of either microbicide or female condoms has the potential to do.
That said, women are still becoming infected with HIV, everyday and need a women-initiated protection method now. The female condom is, to date, the only woman-initiated protection method proven to be effective, both against HIV (94%- 97%) and unwanted pregnancies (87-95%). It will remain the only women-initiated prevention method for dual protection, because pills and IUDs do not stop HIV or other STIs and the microbicide gel will not prevent unwanted pregnancies or any STI’s aside from herpes or HIV. For these reasons, female condoms deserve more attention, not only today, but well into the future. I hope you’ll support our mission by visitingwww.condoms4all.org or sending an email to [email protected].