Years after the female condom was introduced, it has not gained wide acceptance in this country. Women have shown little interest in the female condom.
The female condom is a lifesaving tool. It gives women power to negotiate safer sex and have prevention options. The supply of female condoms in this country remains severely limited.
The Principal Public Relation Officer of Ministry of Health, Temba Cyprian Sibanda, says the female condom is a new product that has not been widely accepted by communities. People tend to perceive it differently because it is thicker than the male condom. Some say it smells while others complain about the sound it produces.
Sibanda says evidence awareness of the female condom is high; 93 percent have seen female condoms and familiarity is also relatively high, with 57 percent having been shown how to use it. However, usage remains low (PSI survey 2010).
Female condoms are as equally marketed as male condoms, through public sector, work place and other settings. The female condom was launched in 2003 and extensive multi ÔÇômedia campaign was put in place throughout the country and education for service providers and community members is ongoing.
Public Health facilities (clinics and Hospitals) offer both male and female condoms. However, private facilities also offer them at a cost.
Female condoms in private pharmacies are reported to range from P8 per piece to about P50 per pack of three.
Kealeboga Shabane of Sisonke, an organization that handles commercial sex workers’ issues based at Bonela, said they haven’t conducted a study to find out which condoms are mostly used by sex workers.
“But, speculatively, I can tell you that most sex workers feel that female condoms are not safe because sometimes clients who do not want to use condoms can flip them and as a result have unprotected sex without sex worker’s knowing,” she pointed out.
Shabane also observes that the female condom has its pros in commercial sex work unlike the male condom, because the police confiscate condoms from people suspected of being sex workers. In addition, some sex workers who insert female condoms might end up using them repeatedly.
Sisonke has weekly outreach programmes where it give its members information on HIV/AIDS prevention, condom use and condom negotiations and also distributes (male) condoms amongst them to share them with sex workers who have not yet come out. With all these measures in place, it’s only safe to say we do not know what goes on behind closed doors.
Onneile Maswabi knows about the female condom. She tried to use it but failed. She does not regard it as user-friendly and is not interested in it anymore.
Gorata Otukile also knows about the female condom but she is not interested in it and feels it is a waste of resources. She feels it is not beneficial and that it is too big.
“The material that goes into making one female condom can make two of male ones,” she remarks.
A 35-year-old guy says he wouldn’t have a problem with it if his girlfriend suggests that they use it but he has realized that most women are not interested in it. He is certain that his girlfriend prefers a male condom over a female one.