The female condom has been making its way across developing countries, particularly those in the African continent. While many see this as a woman’s commodity, one man in Mozambique is actively campaigning for it too.
It’s lunchtime in the Mozambican town of Matola. The blazing sun forces people at the market to hide under the shade of their stalls. Twenty-two-year-old Felix Magul and his seven colleagues from the Kutenga youth association are in the marketplace to promote the female condom. The men regularly take to the streets of Matola, an hour’s drive from the capital, Maputo, to actively campaign for what many see as a woman’s commodity.
“We’re giving power to women who were previously only supposed to use the male condom,” says Magul. “Now the women have independence and can use the female condom.”
The female condom is a pouch inserted into a woman’s vagina before intercourse to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Activists see it as a way to quell the spread of HIV/AIDS. Data from local medical clinics indicates that in some areas of Matola, the prevalence of HIV in women is as high as 23 percent, more than double the national average of 11 percent.
Let’s talk about sex
A friendly young man, Felix Magul approaches locals with ease. He appears unperturbed talking about sexuality, a topic many Mozambicans struggle to speak about publically. Using a rubber model, Magul demonstrates for men and women how the contraceptive is to be used.
In order to make his audience feel comfortable, Magul describes the female condom as something “cool” and “fashionable.” At the end of the talk, he gives listeners the contraceptives to try for themselves.
While Magul admits he’s not fazed about whether he’s telling a man or a woman about the female condom, he says his tone changes a bit when talking to female audiences. Many of the younger women aren’t shy with Magul either.
“It’s just like when you go to the hospital,” comments one woman at Magul’s presentation. “A lot of times you’ll see a male doctor. So if I have an infection and it’s a man who sees me then I have to show it to him, there is no other way.”
Onlookers pose questions about the contraceptive’s use, asking how many times it can be used, whether it can cause health problems to men, whether it could get lost inside a woman’s body.
Some of those who have stopped to watch the demonstration worry that prostitution will increase due to the female condom. Magul says what drives prostitution is a different issue, which has nothing to do with the female condom.
Magul has been volunteering with Kutenga since 2006, but only started promoting the female condom last year. While it doesn’t seem like an obvious job choice for a man, Magul admits there’s a bit of a feminist in him, but that’s only because he defends the rights of men and women equally.
He’s optimistic about the future of the female condom. It could balance the power relationship between men and women, he adds, since women would be able to decide for themselves to have safer sex instead of relying on their partners.
Although reception of the female condom among the market visitors in Matola appears to be positive, the contraceptive hasn’t reached nearly as many people as its male version.
A study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that there was one female condom per 13 women in sub-Saharan Africa, while there were nine male condoms for every man in the region. The study also estimated that in 2008 only 25 percent of all female condoms freely distribution within Mozambique actually reached women who used them.
Nina Yengo, a female condom advocate and project officer at the NGO Pathfinder, says there are still numerous obstacles in Mozambique when it comes to female contraception.
“The female condom still doesn’t have the same attention as the male condom,” Yengo says. “Sometimes they’re available at the government’s medical warehouses for distribution, but they’re last on the priority list to be delivered. It’s not seen as an important product for medical centers like medicines are.”
Even so, Yengo says, Pathfinder’s program to raise awareness about the female condom has some success: in the past year, project partners have won over 450 women who have become regular users.