Woman-centered prevention at the Global Female Condom Conference

Posted on February 12, 2016  |  Related Issues: Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health, Family Planning

By Devan Shea, Policy and Outreach Associate, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

Prevention. Pleasure. Health. Power. We know that woman-centered prevention tools, such as female condoms, have the potential to transform women’s lives. But in most places around the world, people don’t know about female condoms, where to access them, or how to use them.

Advocates from across the globe are trying to change this. Female condom champions like Rowlands Kaotcha, with The Hunger Project in Malawi, secured a commitment from USAID Malawi to increase funding and support for female condom distribution and programming. Kehinde Osinowo, and her team at the Association for Reproductive and Family Health in Nigeria, worked with the Nigerian Ministry of Health to officially recognize and celebrate Global Female Condom Day. Nadia Ndayikeza is working with the Link Up project to implement female condom programming among young women living with HIV in Burundi. Rowlands, Kehinde, Nadia, and more than 200 other advocates, researchers, implementers, donors, and policy makers met at the Global Female Condom Conference in Durban, South Africa in December to discuss how to take female condoms to the next level. 

To some people, female condoms are an HIV prevention tool. To female condom advocates, they are so much more. Female condoms prevent both unintended pregnancy and the transmission of HIV and STIs, including STIs that can cause infertility. They are a critical part of a comprehensive prevention strategy that puts the needs and experiences of women and girls at its center; a strategy that addresses multiple  potential benefits and consequences of sex – from preventing HIV, STIs, and unintended pregnancy; to fertility planning and safer conception; to increasing pleasure, intimacy, and communication.

At the conference I was reminded that training women and their sexual partners on using female condoms can help them develop new skills and confidence in communicating about prevention, pleasure, and their bodies. When integrated into comprehensive, rights-based sexual and reproductive health programs, female condoms have the potential to transform gender norms, promote women’s and girls’ sexual agency, and pave the way for the successful introduction of new prevention technologies in the pipeline. 

During the conference, CHANGE president Serra Sippel reminded attendees that female condoms sit at the intersection of sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender justice, LGBT rights, and youth rights – and therefore advocates have a unique opportunity to expand access to female condoms as part of a package of prevention options. The global community has committed to ambitious new targets for a healthier and more sustainable future – from Agenda 2030 to PEPFAR’s new DREAMS partnership, which focuses on HIV prevention for adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. Expanding access to female condoms will increase women’s options for prevention; and when women and girls are equipped and trusted to make their own decisions about how to live a healthy sexual and reproductive life, whole communities benefit. Now it’s time for us to work across movements, led by in-country advocates, to make these global commitments a reality for women and girls.

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