Women’s Protection Project: condom social marketing for women in Haiti
Presented by Dr Yolene Surena, Populations Services International, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Haiti is one of the countries in the Americas to have been most affected by the AIDS epidemic - 8% of the general population is seropositive. HIV prevalence in certain populations, such as commercial sex workers and their clients, STD patients and tuberculosis patients, is very high (sometimes reaching 40%). The predominant mode of HIV transmission is heterosexual and the male-to-female ratio currently stands at one-to- one. Clearly, in this and similar scenarios, many sexually active women are at risk and yet women who are sexually active but who are not commercial sex workers, and women who have regular partners who are ‘high-frequency’ transmitters, rarely benefit from targeted condom promotion and education efforts.
Educating women on how to protect themselves from STD/HIV, making condoms available to women, and encouraging social support for condom use through media campaigns are the broad aims of a new initiative in Haiti - the Women’s Protection Project. Population Services International (PSI), a major supporter of this project, is an organization with worldwide experience in promoting condoms for family planning and AIDS prevention, and is known for its pioneering work and many achievements in condom social marketing. To date, however, the vast majority of such programmes have targeted only men.
This project, being launched in Brazil and Cameroon as well as Haiti, will try to reach women who are sexually active but not involved in commercial sex work and who are aware of the risks they run when they have sex with a husband or boyfriend who has sexual relationships with other partners, including sex workers, and/or who have multiple partners themselves. This target group will be segmented according to differences among the women. Communication strategies will be developed to meet the needs of women at different stages in the life cycle. Subgroups will include young unmarried women, young married women, older unmarried women and older married women. Attention will also be paid to differences in educational level, economic situation and occupation. Likewise, all messages will acknowledge various issues important to these women, such as the role of condoms in preventing unwanted pregnancies.
The specific objectives of this female-oriented condom social marketing scheme are to: market condoms specifically to women at an affordable price using product packaging that is discreet and appealing to women, product advertising that stresses women’s rights to control their own sexuality and protect their reproductive health, and product sales outlets that correspond to women’s needs for discretion and easy accessibility; conduct mass media public education campaigns that stress women’s right to have a say in sexual decision-making and to insist upon protection in all relations; and implement a wide range of interpersonal communications that address the issue of negotiating condom use in sexual relationships.
To be successful, a major condom social marketing campaign combined with mass media and IEC activities, requires a thorough understanding of the target audience before appropriate message design and content and marketing strategies can be developed. The team in Haiti has obtained some of the needed information. For example, data collected at 21 sales points for one week determined the percentage of condoms sold that were bought by women, their age groups, the time of day they purchased condoms most and the most used type of sales outlet. Women represented 12% of all customers purchasing condoms and the majority of them were young. Women preferred to buy from self-service markets, department stores, or bazaars (from female street vendors) and outside of peak shopping hours. This information was used to develop a pilot condom network of 70 sales outlets that were located in cities, towns, and semi-urban and rural districts, and that were accessible to women and met their needs for discretion. Retailers were visited daily for approximately 20-30 days to provide information on topics such as proper condom use, storage of condoms, and effective marketing of the products.
To determine the appeal of special packaging of condoms designed to be attractive to women, the sales of two models were monitored - “Femme” (woman) and “Fleur” (flower). Sales records for the last month of this project showed that these two brands accounted for 37% of the total market share of condom sales in the 70 outlets. It was also found that 85% of female customers bought condoms together with other products while 54% of male customers did so.
Also of interest were discussions on issues concerning the use of condoms within a stable partnership. In groups of women assembled to discuss condom use, women expressed a keen interest in obtaining information to pass on to others, but they generally felt that they themselves were not in a position to negotiate condom use despite the fact that the majority of them raised doubts as to their partner’s fidelity. Sixty percent of the women said that they would not attempt to place a condom on their partner during intercourse. Among the reasons given for this reluctance were that condom use was for “city” women, and lack of experience or the habit of touching their partner’s genitals. Addressing some of these concerns will be crucial in all aspects of this ‘condom promotion for women’ campaign.
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