AidEx 2016 exhibitor The Female Health Company (FHC) is on a mission to ensure universal access to the female condom. Through its cross-sectoral and local partnerships in 144 countries, it seeks not only to improve sexual health, but also to empower women and local communities the world over.
The female condom is taking the world of sexual and reproductive health by storm. Back in the 1980s when U.S.-based organisation The Female Health Company first began producing it, even saying the word “condom” aloud was unthinkable in many parts of the world. Yet it was 28,000 Zimbabwean women who first grasped its potential to change lives, signing a petition that resulted in the female condom making its way to Zimbabwe.
Since then, the FHC has been on a dual mission to distribute the female condom to countless local communities and to educate both men and women on its use and the numerous possibilities it brings. Whether donating 30,000 female condoms to Central American countries after the Zika virus outbreak, reaching out to child-brides in rural Morocco, or distributing 100,000 female condoms for this year’s Olympics in Brazil, the FHC takes a creative and inclusive and holistic approach to get people thinking about sexual and reproductive health in new ways.
This is sorely needed. Around 215 million women worldwide have no access to contraceptives. This not only results in 76 million unintended pregnancies annually, but also leads to the spread of sexual diseases, the most serious of which is HIV/AIDS. This causes the death of a staggering 1.5 million women every year.
The FHC is taking steps to change this. With its worldwide FC2 programmes and local partners, it is engaging with communities to boost contraceptive access and education. This can help achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls: one of the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The female condom gives women control over their own sexual health and more freedom. Without the burden of debilitating illness resulting from sexually-transmitted diseases, for instance, women are able to dedicate themselves to work, achieving economic independence and contributing to the wellbeing of their wider communities.
Even talking about women’s sexual health remains taboo in many parts of the world. So it’s vital to work closely with communities to ensure open and honest conversations. As Iris Weges, Project Management Consultant at the FHC says, “addressing family planning with people from a wide range of backgrounds means having to navigate between sensitive topics and taboos. Talking is one of the most important aspects.”
The FHC’s work in Kenya with the National AIDS/STD Control Programme is a good example. By collaborating with local partners and NGOs, the FHC reaches out to remote populations not only to distribute the female condom but also to explain how to use it, dispelling fears and educating people on sexual health and protection along the way.
The hope for the future is that no women will be without access to family planning options. The need for a product such as the female condom in indisputable, not only to improve women’s health, but also to ensure that no woman is missing out on the chance for future empowerment.