Project encourages female condom use

MALAWI: Project encourages female condom use


Young girls are more vulnerable to HIV infection

LILONGWE, 2 Nov 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - In a move considered to be a breakthrough for the conservative culture of Malawi, a local NGO has been distributing female condoms to schoolgirls in the southern districts - the region worst affected by HIV/AIDS.

Hunger Project Malawi began providing female condoms to young women in Zomba and Blantyre district in September last year. Since then about 9,000 condoms had been distributed by specially trained people in four areas. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) had donated US $4,800 to "kick-start the project," country director Rowlands Kaotcha noted.

"There are many various NGOs in Malawi and most of them focus on male condoms. We have never seen the distribution of female condoms, and we have brought up this issue because we know female condoms are not generally accepted in Malawi and we want to break this attitude," Kaotcha told PlusNews.

Although the female-controlled prevention method was available, people remained sceptical of using it, as they found it uncomfortable.

"Before any distribution is done we sensitise the communities on how they could use and dispose of the condoms. The majority of our women in Malawi are illiterate and need a lot of sensitisation," he said.

In Malawi's patriarchal society, young women are expected to marry as early as 14 years of age, particularly in rural areas, and most school dropouts in the country are girls.

Cultural practices such as "chinamwali", a form of initiation in which young girls are advised by their elders to marry early, have also been criticised by health experts as encouraging the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Hunger Project has been working on food distribution initiatives for the past three years. "We are going into condom distribution because women are the most vulnerable and the most affected in Malawi. When some members of the family are sick at home, women shoulder the responsibility and even farming stops," Kaotcha said. "We want to protect them, so that they find time to farm."


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