As a U2 devotee, I believe that the lyrics to the band’s songs are close to Gospel, spreading messages around the world that need to be heard. One of their most recent releases off their new album, “No Line On the Horizon,” is no different. In “Get On Your Boots,” Bono bellows: “Women are the future hold the big revelations,” just as The Edge provides a guitar riff that’s sure to let listeners know that these lyrics demand to be heard. As I listen to the tune via the wonders of my iPod, I’m astounded by the relevance of the band’s message when it’s applied to my context here in Mozambique.
Over the past two weeks, Aquarius and I have been interviewing community-based organizations (CBOs) who work with HIV/AIDS home-based care (HBC) in the Inhambane province. Each day, we travel to a new CBO, talk to a sampling of members from the organization, and take notes on what is said. Topics have ranged from requests for additional funding so that CBOs can serve more patients to conversations examining the role of traditional healers in Africa. As a student interested in cultural studies in general, I have found every CBO interview to be fascinating, and each topic raised to be worthy of continual study. However, what has interested me the most has been the issue that all six of the CBOs we visited have mentioned.
Actually, this particular topic hasn’t just been “mentioned,” rather, it has been passionately discussed and expressed in a way that conveys, “If you take anything from this conversation, walk away knowing this…” With great fervor, members of CBOs here tell us that perhaps more than anything else, female condoms are needed in Mozambique to assist with HIV/AIDS prevention. According to the groups, providing women with the ability to control condom use is a real key to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS in this country. In short, Bono’s new lyrics seem to hold weight: Women really can be the future and do indeed hold big revelations.
And in Mozambique, female condoms hold possibility for numerous reasons: 1.) Many men and women refuse to use male condoms because they report that the condoms negatively affect their physical comfort during sex. Female condoms, on the other hand, are said to feel more comfortable for both genders. 2.) In some areas, male condoms are directly associated with evil spirits and are believed to be the cause of disease rather than the prevention of it. Female condoms do not have this same stigma. 3.) Both genders report that females are more likely to use condoms during sex than males. If a female can individually control the use of a condom during sex, more condoms will be used. Men and women alike agree that female condoms have the ability to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in Mozambique—and perhaps create results far more beneficial than any other method on the market. The complication with this, however, is that access to female condoms is not widespread, and when female condoms are found, the cost is over 2,000% more than the price of male condoms.
However, I am proud to report that IRD hasn’t failed to take note of what both women and men in these parts are saying. During the next half of our internship, Aquarius and I will be involved in a program called “Women First,” which is located farther north in the Zambezia province. While here, we’ll have the opportunity to be part of one of the first programs that actually places female condoms in the hands of women all across the area. In the past, Women First has done other revolutionary programs like empowering women by providing them with entrepreneurial skills and health information so they can diversify both their income and the products available in the northern part of the country. The program has gained a lot of attention from donors because it addresses three issues that desperately need added attention in this country: income generation, health education, and women’s empowerment. However, now with the added element that will test female condoms, Women’s First will be at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention across Africa. Needless to say, this is exciting!
So, let’s hope that both U2 and Women First are onto something—that by empowering women and giving them disease prevention tools like female condoms, big revelations will occur!