NGO Trains Young People To Advocate For Increased Access To Female Condoms
Few months ago, I visited a general hospital in Kaduna South, Sabon/Tasha, to see a midwife [no I’m not pregnant!]. While in the office, there was a young woman in her early twenties who came with her infant for checkup.
During counselling, she was given both male and female condoms. I noticed that the male condom was more than the two female condoms given to her. Oh yes, that was my first time of seeing a female condom in its pack, even though I have heard about it. The young woman appeared shy as she collected them while listening to the Midwife’s instructions on how to use it.
It was the curiosity to learn more about this that led me to apply for the Kaduna female condom youth advocacy by Education as a Vaccine (EVA). Yes- I was selected after a rigorous application exercise.
The three days workshop centered on policy advocacy on the use of female condoms.
Young people (attendees) were engaged in lots of activities during the workshop— we were given the opportunity to see the practicality of how to use female condom. I even tried my hands on one—over a miniature of course! Don’t let your imagination run wild now.
Manre, one of the facilitators talked about how low awareness on female condoms has caused a lot of misconception. Women who buy them are stereotyped as sex workers (prostitutes). Some married women who talk about it with their husbands or other female counterparts are regarded with suspicion. The condoms are also expensive when compared to the cost of male condoms, and barely available in pharmacies.
Sylvia, another facilitator from Eva, talked about how female condoms is been viewed in some of the Nigerian policies on health, relating female condoms to mainly sex workers or high-risk group including HIV, which is very disturbing.
Attending this workshop at first was purposely to learn more about women’s right to their sexual and reproductive health but along the line I got to understand that there is a lot to be learnt as regards to young people’s wellbeing especially those who are already sexually active.
The peak of the workshop was a task of a pharmacy-run. I had to check into four different pharmacies before I could get a female condom as oppose to male condoms. Other attendees also told of their experiences, which was not pleasant at all. Eunice, a fellow participant, shared how she got a very displeasing look from a pharmacist when she asked for female condom saying ‘nah sharp sharp you wan go do abi?’. Another participant, a male, shared how a salesperson snapped at him. He heard other people buying drugs in the Pharmacy murmuring– one said, “Nawa o, this boy don graduate from male condom to female in this fasting period self”. He could not go into another store in that neighborhood because of the stigma.
Our experience during the task revealed why young people cannot go into a medicine store or pharmacy to buy female condoms. They are forced to engage in sexual activities without contraception or protection thus increasing the chances of spreading sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies among young women.
Attendees were encouraged to take action by creating awareness (especially by social media), promotion, proper distribution of educational materials (by Society for Family and Health (SFH), health care providers and Family Planning providers), interpersonal communication, more training (health care providers) and advocacy targeted at decision makers.
Oxfam Novib, Rutegers WPF, Universal Access to Essential Medicines and Ministerie Van Buitenlandse Zaken are the four Netherlands based partners who started the Universal Access to Female Condoms Joint Programme (UAFC), in 2008.