Female Condoms: A Way For African Women To Take Power

Designed in the 1980s to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, female condoms are now increasingly available throughout Africa. And the world.

South African women's way to independence?
Adrien Barbier and Emeline Wuilbercq

CAPE TOWN — Just out of her car, Nomaxhosa Pendu gathers a small group of women in a street in the township of Mfuleni, a suburb of Cape Town. "You've all heard about the female condom, right?" she asks. The women nod half-heartedly. The health worker inflates a plastic cube with a hole in the middle to get the demonstration started. She pulls out the condom with the two rings and inserts it into a model of a vagina. "First, always check the expiration date. Then, settle down in a comfortable position, relax and there you go, just insert it!"

The female condom, which first appeared in South Africa more than 20 years ago, is working wonders for different reasons in the continent's largest market for this product. Every year, the government distributes more than 40 million units, free of charge, to hospitals, university campuses and communities. South Africa has the world's largest HIV-positive population, with nearly one-fifth of adults aged 19 to 45 infected. The government provides 80% of the funding for the fight against AIDS and condoms remain the preferred method of prevention. They also work against other sexually transmitted diseases and early and unwanted pregnancies.

With a female condom, you are more independent.

"The good thing is that the female condom brings much more pleasure to both men and women. And it's not made of latex, so no strange noises during intercourse," continues Pendu while some in the audience giggle with embarrassment. A home-based health worker, she travels daily from house to house to take care of patients with chronic diseases, but also provides HIV prevention advice. "Some women, usually the older ones, don't want to hear about it, so I'm mainly targeting young people," she says.

A 22-year-old girl, Nomgaso, with a baby in her arms, says she knows how to use it but has never tried it. Another woman, Nobuthle, who is 33, replies: "With my boyfriend, we alternate: once the female condom, once the male."

Someone then asks Pendu if they can keep it in all night. "Don't," replies the health worker. "Every time you start again, you have to change the condom."

The advice is valuable to these women. Statistics are clear: Women are more likely to be infected with HIV than men. Because the use of the male condom often depends on the men's good will. "I tell women: With a female condom, you are more independent, it's your choice, and you are protected even if your partner goes elsewhere," says Pendu. If necessary, women can even insert it a few hours before intercourse.

Mfuleni's medical center — Source: Google Street View

Invented in the mid-1980s by Denmark's Lasse Hessel, who died in April this year, the female condom was produced on a large scale a decade later by the Female Health Company (FHC), an American social enterprise that was the only player on the market until 2012. "It took us several years to get the green light from the Food and Drug Administration," says FHC chief Denise Van Dijk.

First made of polyurethane, this product was later made out of nitrile, a cheaper material, and is now available throughout the world. African governments and partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are its main buyers. In total, FHC sells between 40 and 100 million units per year, at prices ranging from $0.30 to $0.50 — a rate that tends to go down as new competitors enter the market.

Women are also asking for more.

Indian company Cupid, already a producer of male condoms, decided to market a product for women in 2012, with a soft ring and a sponge to facilitate insertion. "We decided to make a commercial bet and take a financial risk. Seven years later, it is a success because we have met women's demand for an affordable product and we are quite profitable: we are fully recovering the investment we have made," says Om Garg, Cupid's CEO.

Over the past five years, Cupid has sold 60 million female condoms in more than 40 countries worldwide. During a 2014 tender, the South African government bought 80% of its female condoms from Cupid. Today, the company plans to double its production, which currently amounts to 25 million units per year. An additional manufacturing line has been installed at its factory near Mumbai.

The market outlook is impressive: Kenneth Research, a consulting company, estimates the overall growth rate for the female condom market over the 2017-2023 period at 15.55%. Unfortunately, "the supply of female condoms is not always accessible or affordable, which hinders efforts to promote their use," according to Rutgers, a Netherlands-based center of expertise on sexual and reproductive health and rights. They advocate for more political and financial commitment from governments, donors and health agencies on female condoms.

Back in Mfuleni, women are also asking for more. Before leaving, Pendu hands out a condom to each attendee. "Just one?," complains Nobuthle with a hearty laugh. "But it's Friday! My man's coming and that's never gonna be enough!"

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.



• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.


"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."


Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.


It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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