Female condoms give women more control

6 July 2015
Market vendor Miriam Akello distributes female condoms at her stall in Maga Maga cluster in Kiryadongo refugee settlement, north-west Uganda. Photo: UNFPA Uganda

KIRYADONGO REFUGEE SETTLEMENT, Uganda – Miriam Akello, a market vendor, is becoming known as the female condom distributor in Maga Maga cluster in Kiryadongo refugee settlement, north-west Uganda.

“Using a female condom is about having power over your own life,” she says. “As a woman, when you use a female condom you have the power to take control of your life.”

Ms. Akello began using female condoms in 2008 after losing her husband. The 45-year-old mother of two teenage daughters says female condoms have not only kept her safe from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, but have also empowered her to make the right choices about her reproductive health.

Negotiating safer sex

In many societies cultural dictates, gender roles and gender-based power differences continue to affect women's ability to make decisions regarding their health and welfare.  Many women are unable to negotiate safe sex. However, female condoms are providing women with more choice when it comes to family planning and enabling them to take better control of their bodies and their lives.

In the marketplace, Ms. Akello pulls a female condom out of her apron pocket and tears the packet open. “This is how a female condom is used,” she says, and gives a demonstration.

Just that morning, she picked up 20 female condoms from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) office for distribution at the market. And in the afternoon, she had 13 left in her apron pocket.

“Whenever I get the opportunity, I am not afraid to distribute them and tell women about the advantages of using female condoms,” she says.

Benefits of using the female condom

Ms. Akello demonstrates how to use a female condom. Photo: UNFPA Uganda

Ms. Akello says many women still do not know how to use female condoms and they need to be sensitized about its benefits: “There are benefits to using the female condom, and the advantage is that it is comfortable,” she says. It is an effective way of practicing family planning. Even if a woman's partner agrees to use male condoms, there is a need for other family planning options, of which the female condom is one.

“Through the years, I have been using condoms for family planning. And I always tell my female colleagues that I have never used any other type of family planning apart from condoms,” she says. Her last born is now 16 years old.

She encourages women to negotiate safe sex with their partners because not all men are negative towards using them: “I have not met a sexual partner who complained about female condoms. Last year I met someone new and introduced the female condom to him and he was very receptive,” she says.

Spreading the word on food distribution days

A member of the Mount Elgon women’s group in the refugee settlement, Ms. Akello takes advantage of food distribution days to spread the word about the benefits of using female condoms because, she says, that is when she finds many women gathered in one place.

Female condoms have also provided her with protection from STIs, including HIV: “For my own safety, I use female condoms. There are some women who are HIV positive but they do not know how to use the female condom, and yet their husbands do not like using male condoms. I advise these women to choose female condoms to prevent reinfection,” she says.