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All We Want For Christmas Is Access to Female Condoms

19 November 2013

All We Want For Christmas Is Access to Female Condoms

Sunday December 1st marks World AIDS Day where people worldwide unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and commemorate people who have died. This year Positive Women Inc. is bringing attention to the female condom and the Paper Doll Campaign calling for the government to make the female condom available and subsidised in New Zealand.

The female condom has been on the market since 1993 and the UN characterises them as essential commodities for women’s health. It protects women against pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs, and does not need to be negotiated with men to be used, can be inserted preemptively, has no side effects and you don’t have to see a health provider to get it. It is the perfect product to help achieve the UNAIDS target of Getting to Zero by 2015 which is again this year’s World AIDS Day theme.

Jane Bruning, National Coordinator of Positive Women Inc., the national support organisation for women and families living with HIV and AIDS, says, “The female condom empowers women to take control over their sexual health and safety and it should be a cheap and accessible option. We are urging the government to allow them to be made available in New Zealand”.

PWI was selling FC2 female condoms imported from Australia but in 2012 received a strongly worded letter from MedSafe to cease or face a large fine as the selling of female condoms is illegal. The FC2 is made of nitrile, a synthetic latex that does not have the required approval. PWI has asked MedSafe if they can sell female condoms made of latex, which is what male condoms are made of, but this inquiry has been met by silence. It wasn’t long after PWI sent letters to all government officials with health portfolios asking for their support that MedSafe announced that they were undertaking a consultation process on the FC2.

PWI’s Paper Doll Campaign is a continuation of a 2011 international campaign that sought to increase the awareness, education, and availability of the female condom. 2000 signed paper dolls will be presented to the NZ parliament on International Women’s Day 2014.

In recent developments a spokesperson from GLYDE Healthcare NZ (newly appointed distributor for the FC2 in NZ) confirmed a recent discussion with MedSafe that the recommendation & NZ standard for female condoms would be with the Minister of Health for approval by Christmas, which is fantastic news for women in NZ but is only the first hurdle in making these more affordable for everyone. Positive Women Inc. believes its three yearlong campaign has contributed to these changes.

Bruning says, “The NZ government needs to know that the female condom is a sound product that NZ women can request and that there is growing demand for it.”

Positive Women Inc. became involved in the promotion and education of the female condom with their participation in the international Paper Doll Campaign three years ago. At events, members of the public wrote messages of support for female condoms on paper dolls. All the paper dolls from all over the world were made into massive chains and presented at an international conference on female condoms in the Netherlands and to the UN Population Fund highlighting the growing worldwide demand for female condoms. After the campaign was finished, PWI got permission to continue the campaign nationally.

Female condoms have several advantages:
• Condoms – male and female – are currently the only available technology which gives users simultaneous protection against pregnancy and STI’s including HIV. The FC is the only female initiated HIV prevention method available.
• Women are in control when they use them. The use of male condoms often has to be negotiated over and over again and relies on the cooperation of men. Qualitative studies find an increased sense of power for negotiation of safer sex, and a greater sense of control and safety during sex, among women using female-condoms.
• Female condoms have the advantage of no side effects; if you have a latex allergy you have options. They are reversible forms of contraception, and can be used without seeking a health-care provider.
• Synthetic female condoms have a soft, moist texture which feels natural during sex. For men the sensation is closer to that of sex without a condom, because female condoms do not fit tightly around the penis as male condoms do.
• Synthetic female condoms (FC2 and Women's Condom) are not damaged by oil based lubricants nor affected by changes in temperature and humidity, so they can be safely stored almost anywhere. (Unlike latex condoms Cupid and WOW of Medtech).
• They can be inserted several hours before the sexual act takes place, so foreplay does not need to be interrupted.
• Studies report a high satisfaction rate by both women and men who have used the female condom. Originally, the demand came mostly from women, but we see the number of male consumers increasing. We have seen this play out when we sold them for a short while back in 2011. Our biggest demand came from the Prostitutes Collective whose feedback was that their male clients were requesting it the most.
• Any negative feedback over the years has been mainly aesthetic and easily remedied with newer iterations. Like, for example, the FC1 which produced a crispy noise during sex, the second generation model FC2 is made with nitrile which doesn’t produce this noise.
• Another complaint, the outer ring is visible outside the vagina – this does not need to be a negative as it increases the sensation of sex by rubbing against the labia and clitoris.
• The insertion and removal of the female condom requires some practice hence the need for peer-education and a comfortable environment to “train” women on how to use it, so that they feel free to ask questions.
• And lastly, they’re not cheap! Family Planning sold the FC1 at 3 for $15 which compared to the male condom is astronomical. Worldwide they are limited in availability and most of them have yet to be fully approved. There needs to be a great show in support of them not only from consumers but governments and major donors too, to get the process sped up – the more they’re out on the market, the more they’re talked about and used, the cheaper and more abundant they’ll get.

Positive Women Inc. is an organisation providing support to women and families living with HIV. Positive Women Inc. also aims to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS in the community through educational programmes with a focus on prevention and de-stigmatisation.

Links: www.positivewomen.org.nz


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