Voice and Participation: Campaigning for the Female Condom

DateJuly 23, 2015
SourceThe ATHENA Network
TypeUpdates

blog series 2By Tyler Crone, Co-Founder and Coordinating Director, the ATHENA Network

The 10th in a series of articles from FP2020 partners illustrating how human rights principles shape their reproductive health programs

Nadia Ndayikeza, 29, is a woman on a mission.  It started when she saw a man in the marketplace in Burundi wearing a female condom as a bracelet.  He doesn't even know what it is, she thought to herself.  That thought was immediately followed by another:  Why?  Why don't people know about female condoms?

As an advocate for young people living with HIV, Nadia understands very well the significance of the female condom.  Not only does it prevent pregnancy, but it’s also the only method of HIV-prevention that a woman can initiate herself. 

Presentation1So with support from ATHENA through the Link Up consortium, Nadia started a pilot project with young women and health care providers in Burundi to expand awareness of and access to female condoms.

Link Up is a multi-year initiative to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than a million young people affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Uganda.  Nadia’s female condom project is very much in line with the Link Up mandate, which is to prioritize the voices and visions of young people themselves. 

Family Planning 2020 refers to this as the principle of Voice and Participation.  In FP2020’s Rights & Empowerment Principles for Family Planning, it’s defined this way:

Voice and Participation:  Individuals, particularly beneficiaries, have the ability to meaningfully participate in the design, provision, implementation, and evaluation of contraceptive services, programs and policies.

The first step of Nadia’s project was research:  young women living with HIV were trained to conduct a brief survey to explore the availability, promotion, and distribution of female condoms at five Link Up-supported public facilities. What they found was that the female condom was rarely in stock, and never included in the prominent displays and dispensers where male condoms are distributed. 

Nadia’s preliminary investigations also suggested that sex workers do ask for the female condom, but that demand isn’t being met.

“According to sex workers, you can agree with someone to use a condom but they may take it off during sex,” Nadia explains. “In this case, when a client agrees to use a condom they would choose to wear a female condom instead of a male one so they have more control to make sure it stays in place.”

Nadia and her young team presented their findings at a meeting in February with the Ministry of Health and 45 healthcare providers.  After a very productive session of knowledge-sharing and discussion, all of the providers at the meeting committed to adding female condoms to their inventories and making them available in their clinics.

Nadia’s next step will be to set up a monitoring system with her team to make sure that the female condoms are in stock and being offered at the health centers. She also plans to develop an educational outreach program for young women living with HIV. 

Nadia eventually hopes to take her project national. “I want to see female condoms available like male condoms, to give women more choice,” she says.

Link Up partners in Burundi are also working with the Reseau National des Jeunes Vivant avec VIH/SIDA (RNJ+), a network of young people living with HIV, to develop facilities and services. 

The executive director of RNJ+ is Nadia’s brother, Cédric Nininahazwe.  Like his sister, Cédric is a dedicated activist who is passionate about the rights and health of people living with HIV. 

With support from Link Up, RNJ+ has launched a new youth center in the capital city of Bujumbura.  It’s the only youth-led center in the country, and it offers a safe, nonjudgmental space for young people living with HIV, young sex workers, and young lesbian, gay, and transgender people.  Everyone is welcome to come in for information, HIV counseling and testing, contraceptive services, or just a game of table football.

The fact that young people themselves designed and created the space is what makes it work.  When it comes to reaching young people—or anyone else—with the health and family planning services they need, the value of collaborative partnership cannot be overstated.  Link Up’s participatory approach doesn’t just result in better programs; it also contributes to a culture in which young people’s rights are upheld and fostered.

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Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) is a global partnership that supports the rights of women and girls to decide, freely and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have. This blog is part of a series profiling the work of FP2020 partners around the world as they realize the human rights principles integral to family planning programs. As the world pivots towards a new set of Global Goals, and the international family planning community gathers steam ahead of the International Conference on Family Planning in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, this November, FP2020 and its partners celebrate and cement the centrality of rights and empowerment in all the work that we do. Continue to follow the conversation on Twitter using #FP2020Progress and #ICFP2015.

Tags
Bangladesh Burundi Ethiopia Myanmar Rights Uganda