by Kiki Kalkstein, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Earlier this month, I attended the Women Deliver Conference in Washington, D.C ., on behalf of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). After a jam-packed three days of plenary sessions, chairman’s sessions, and more than 100 concurrent sessions, participants left the conference reinvigorated and ready to take action to work toward fulfilling Millennium Development Goal #5: Reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health.
After speaking with hundreds of participants, one thing was made very clear to me — people not only want female condoms, but they believe that female condoms are a vital tool in decreasing maternal death, improving maternal health, and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights.
I had countless conversations with participants from all over the world who were thrilled we were there talking about and promoting the female condom. As I shared information about the Prevention Now! Campaign (CHANGE’s initiative to increase access to existing prevention methods, especially female and male condoms), their message came through loud and clear — we want female condoms, and we want them now.
I spoke with men and women of all ages, and again and again they expressed interest in female condoms and inquired about how to increase access in their own countries. A doctor from Kenya said that women who come to his clinic consistently ask for female condoms, and he doesn’t have any to offer. A doctor from Nepal took all the information he could from our booth, and came back with his colleagues to get more. Some participants asked how they could launch a female condom program in their own countries. Female condoms are in demand.
Access to contraception is critical for preventing maternal deaths, but sometimes high-level decision makers do not make that connection. The female condom puts women in control of their own health by enabling women to delay pregnancy and space out births, all of which decrease the risk of maternal death and disability.
Effective family planning programs are not only fundamental to maternal health, they also allow women and families to better manage household and natural resources, secure education for all family members, and address each family member’s healthcare needs. Participants at Women Deliver conference acknowledged the benefits of the female condoms and recognized it as a vital tool for improving maternal health globally.
Kiki Kalkstein is the program assistant at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). She previously designed and implemented public health education programs both domestically and internationally, including a rural community outreach program with the Uganda Village Project focused on increasing awareness around obstetric fistula. She also designed and implemented at the University of California at Berkeley “Sex and Sustainability: Reconnecting Population and Women’s Empowerment,” a campus program designed to increase awareness about unmet family planning needs in developing countries.