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Posts Tagged ‘Female Empowerment’

By Arianna Nisonoff

Condoms are the key to an exorbitant number of global health problems. We need to be making more use out of this simple and cost effective innovation. When used correctly, they can be used effectively to stop the transmission of numerous diseases, control population growth (and in turn poverty), and empower women. They are a simple solution that could change the world once people gain better access on top of accepting them culturally.

Normally, when people think of using a condom to prevent disease they think of HIV and AIDS; but as recent discoveries have shown new diseases, such as the Zika virus, can also be sexually transmitted.7 Zika virus is a disease of current epidemic proportions. Largely seen in South America, this disease is transmitted by mosquitos and causes fever, joint pain, red eye and other symptoms.2 Many governments and religious figures are now recommending the use of condoms to prevent the spread of Zika virus. Not only can a male pass on Zika virus to a women when having unprotected sex, but there is also a chance for mother to child transmission to occur, which can lead to birth defects. Birth defects such as microcephaly, which results in abnormal brain growth and potentially impact mental development in children, and impaired vision, due to damage to the retina or optic nerve and could lead to potential blindness, can occur.5, 6 Protected sex could prevent so many of these birth defects and eliminate the sexual transmission of this disease.

Disease prevention is a huge benefit of condoms, but they can also do so much more. Condoms are a major player in family planning. The poorest countries have the highest population growth rate.4 When the average family size in a community is 7 children, there is no future. Making contraception accessible everywhere and decreasing population growth is a major factor in ending poverty.8 Limited family planning is concurrent with low female education rates.4 Not only does implementing greater condom use improve family planning, but this access to contraception is just one step in building female autonomy. Having a large number of children poses a health risk to women, and many of these women in developing countries having these large number of children report having more babies than they want and starting earlier than they want.4 Condoms are a step in empowering women and letting them have the number of children they want, while also giving them more opportunities and freedoms.1 In a lot of low income countries women have very few rights. In an article by Nina Lakhani, women in El Salvador are being imprisoned for 30-50 years on the count of murder for Zika related miscarriages.3 This was mind-boggling and absolutely heart breaking to me. This is a huge injustice to these women and this sort of treatment needs to be stopped. Fighting the legal system in this country needs to be done but would be an extremely difficult task. The least that should be done is promoting condom use so that the Zika virus is not transmitted to these women and they are not wrongfully imprisoned because of a disease related miscarriage.

Condoms need to be better taken advantage of, and condom education and distribution should be a larger global health intervention. A TED Talk by Mechai Viravaidya (https://www.ted.com/talks/mechai_viravaidya_how_mr_condom_made_thailand_a_better_place?language=en#t-103083), shares a success story of how condoms saved Thailand. With the original intention of population control, condoms were then used to prevent the HIV and AIDS epidemic in that country. The average number of children per family decreased from 7 to 1.5 in 25 years; and incidence of HIV declined by 90%. Viravaidya and his team were able to get these astonishing results by making the condom as accessible as possible, having them at coffee shops and giving them out in various community settings. They received blessings from important religious figures that were widely accepted, which made Thai people more accepting of the condom. Condom education became a major part of education in middle school and in high school, to a point where children where the teachers. These are just a few steps that many current low-income countries should be taking. Condoms have the potential to improve standard of living, and should therefore be better utilized as a tool to combat disease, poverty and to protect women’s rights.

 

Work Cited

 

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Family planning/contraception. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs351/en/

 

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Zika virus. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/index.html

 

  1. Lakhani, N. (2016, February 12). ‘Zika-linked’ miscarriages pose jail risk for women in El Salvador, activists say. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/feb/12/zika-linked-miscarriages-pose-jail-risk-women-el-salvador-activists-say

 

  1. Nadakavukaren, A. (2011). Our global environment a health perspective. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.

 

  1. Saint Luis, C. (2016, February 9). Study in Brazil links Zika virus to eye damage in babies. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/10/health/study-in-brazil-links-zika-virus-to-eye-damage-in-babies.html?ref=topics

 

  1. Saint Luis, C. (2016, January 31). Microcephaly, spotlighted by Zika virus, has long afflicted and mystified. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/01/health/microcephaly-spotlighted-by-zika-virus-has-long-afflicted-and-mystified.html

 

  1. Tavemise, S. (2016, February 18). W.H.O. recommends contraception in countries with Zika virus. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/19/health/zika-virus-birth-control-contraception-who.html?_r=1

 

  1. Viravaidya, M. (2010, September). Mechai Viravaidya: How Mr. condom made Thailand a better place for life and love . Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/mechai_viravaidya_how_mr_condom_made_thailand_a_better_place?language=en#t-103083

 

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By Melanie Kirsh

HIV is often thought of as a global health issue that disproportionately affects people of color, regardless of income. This may be a result of inaccessibility to HIV education and effective interventions, or of the negative social factors that contribute to higher likelihood of unsafe sexual practices within the population. ABC programs (abstinence, being faithful, and condom use) were rolled out in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s; in Uganda, these programs resulted in significant declines in HIV prevalence. Despite this success, other sub-Saharan African countries’ HIV continues to affect women at disproportionate rates. In her book, Love, Money, & HIV: Becoming a Modern African Women in the Age of AIDS (2014) Sanyu A. Mojola illuminates the socioeconomic and environmental factors that may explain why her home province of Nyanza, Kenya demonstrates rates of HIV/AIDS that are much greater among young, wealthier women in comparison to men of the same age group and poorer women. She argues that the engagement in modern consumption and their perceived need to consume items like makeup, clothing, and feminine hygiene products contribute to their increased vulnerability to contracting the virus. In order to purchase these items, they need money, but since they are much less likely to be employed or receive substantial financial support from their families, they rely on relationships with men (Mojola 2014). Intimate heterosexual relations become complicated with social norms in regards to condom use: even though youth are taught about condom use, their behaviors do not reflect this education. Mojola’s male subjects believe that condoms may be uncomfortable or may (falsely) indicate that the woman is sleeping with other people (2014). This stigma, in combination with concurrency that men practice around the Lake Victoria region, results in the women’s increased risk of contracting HIV. Due to the quotidian nature of female hygiene product consumption, and the implicit need to aspire to European beauty standards with makeup and clothing that impresses their peers, women engage in transactional relationships that expose them to HIV/AIDS. In short, modernity is killing them.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mojola recently, as her book was assigned for a seminar of mine called Contemporary Debates on Sexualities Research. The professor pooled questions from the class prior to Mojola’s arrival, and one of my questions regarded my intrigue with her book’s lack of discussion on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as an alternative preventative measure for the young women. Mojola expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of such an initiative, because PrEP requires the person at-risk to follow a diligent schedule, with 100% compliancy, and this is extremely difficult to achieve –especially in a setting like sub-Saharan Africa where resources are already limited and sexual education programs are insufficient. A PrEP study conducted in Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania from 2009-2011 confirms this, as the study was halted due to female participants’ weak adherence and the poor efficacy that resulted (Damme et al. 2012). Mojola explains that in order for women to be compliant, they need to perceive themselves as ‘at-risk’ in the first place. However, these women do not think they are at risk of contracting HIV because of the perception that sex without a condom signifies the man is not having sex with other women. So, the cycle begins again and preventative measures are tainted with the conflation of trust = love = sex without a condom.

Evidently, the typical ABC programming that advocates for seemingly practical behavior changes has failed the young women of Mojola’s native country. Not all young people abstain from sexual activity, faithfulness is challenged by the concurrency and polygamy in which men and women engage, and condoms increases false suspicion that one’s partner is not faithful or trusting. Given Mojola’s findings and skepticism of alternative preventative initiatives, it is clear that eliminating the HIV epidemic among young women (particularly those in Nyanza, Kenya) would involve a complicated untangling of modern Westernized feminine beauty ideals, deconstruction of gendered economies that disadvantage young women and girls, and increasing access to menstrual products (this would keep girls in school and encourage economic autonomy). It is time to introduce and implement a redefined ABC programming that goes beyond education. It looks like this:

HIV Poster

Of course, this involves a major overhaul of the socioeconomic structures in Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries. But, Mojola’s work provides us with the understanding that women’s current economic position in conjunction with the initial results of ABC campaigns is killing them. Such an economic overhaul is long overdue.

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