The following was written by my assistant, Lindsey Lewthwaite, after I had asked her to do some research for me about a unique, new female condom. She threw herself into the task and created this piece and I’m proud to share it with you.
As the World Cup ends, I am amazed at how this sporting event has brought people together from all over the globe to watch, marvel at, and celebrate our greatest athletes. South Africa took center stage as the host of this event, and while we can all thank them for putting on this show, we shouldn’t turn our gaze away just yet. With any big government expenditure, such as those of South Africa’s for the World Cup, there are those who believe the money could be better spent elsewhere. I live in British Columbia Canada, and during the years leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games there was controversy over spending dollars on the games instead of on issues such as homelessness. Likewise, the South African government has been criticized for spending so much on stadiums for the World Cup while some feel they haven’t spent nearly enough combating HIV/AIDS.
In the months prior to the World Cup, the South African government was asking the world for 1 billion condoms in order to prepare for the influx of tourists and of prostitutes that huge sporting events draw. South Africa is suffering from an HIV/AIDS epidemic; they have the highest HIV caseload in the world. There are 5.7 million South Africans living with HIV (that’s about 1 in 5 adults or 18% of the population). Every day there are 1,400 new infections and almost 1,000 deaths from AIDS. The number of cases is “disproportionately concentrated among women and girls”. Sexual violence is rampant, and there is a lack of female control and agency over their own bodies due to the extreme poverty and the cultural histories of violence and patriarchy. The women of South Africa do not enjoy the sexual empowerment and right of equality that most western women enjoy.
HIV treatment, especially for pregnant women and children (28% of babies born are exposed to the virus by their mothers), is a huge political issue in South Africa. The request for 1 billion condoms is believed to be as much a part of a new South African HIV prevention drive, as it is to protect tourists. The government committed to increase the number of hospitals and clinics that dispense AIDS medicine for free, and has trained hundreds of nurses to prescribe the drugs. While the government has increased treatment for victims, they have been lagging in the necessary education and prevention.
Management of this issue has been problematic with critics accusing the “South African leadership of undermining the fight with denialism and hypocrisy”. During the rape trial of South African President, and former head of the National AIDS Council, Jacob Zuma admitted that he didn’t use a condom, even though he knew the woman was HIV positive, but that he took a shower afterward to “cut the risk of contracting HIV”. More education is obviously necessary.
Rates of sexual assault in South Africa are among the highest in the world, and children are most at risk (40% of reported cases are committed against children). Rape is especially dangerous for women and children because the internal tears suffered in such an attack make the victim more susceptible to contracting the virus from an infected attacker.
The female condom gives power to the women. It is “the only woman initiated tool that has been proven to be effective in the prevention of HIV, STIDs, and unplanned pregnancy”. It is promoted by groups in South Africa, but is very hard for women to access; availability is minimal. The South African National Strategic Plan (2007-2011) contained provisions for the purchase of 425 million male condoms, and for only 3 million female condoms. In June, the Female Health Company announced that it had fulfilled an order for 3.5 million female condoms for the World Cup. Great Britain sent South Africa 42 million condoms, but I don’t know if these were male or female.
With women being much more commonly the victims of HIV/AIDS, and with the political and cultural leadership of men like Zuma, I find it disappointing that female condoms are not as readily available as male condoms.
In response to the sexual violence against women, a South African woman has invented a new kind of female condom, and planned to distribute 30,000 during the World Cup. This condom, called the Rape-aXe, offers barbed protection against rape. When a woman wearing this condom is penetrated, sharp barbs hook into the penis. These barbs need to be surgically removed, which will identify the man as a rapist to medical professionals. You can imagine the appeal of this type of defense. The inventor said that she was inspired by a rape victim who said to her “If only I had teeth down there”.
The spotlight of the world was shining on South Africa, and we should take this opportunity to reflect on the sexual realities of South Africans. Perhaps the World Cup will be a platform for the global community to come together, not just on the soccer pitch, but to help South Africa recover from this epidemic. FIFA believes that “there will be an increased effort to fight against AIDS and HIV in South Africa both medically and socially after the World Cup”. With all the millions of dollars that have been put into this event, and all the millions that are being made, I can only hope that somehow some way, through this global event, help will be supplied to the women and children of South Africa. As they have been saying on TV, “The world came to know South Africa, and we are all better for it”, likewise I hope that the women and children of South Africa will somehow be better for it as well.
Kim Switnicki, ACC
Sex Educator for Women, Sex & Intimacy Coach