NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - Conservative views about sex, high cost and poor awareness are hindering the use of the female condom in India despite its introduction two decades ago, the head of one of the world's leading condom makers said on Wednesday, marking the first international day to promote the contraceptive.
HIV/AIDS and reproductive health groups have named September 12 "Global Female Condom Day" to help spread awareness of the contraception, which they say helps empower women by giving them control over their bodies and sexual health.
Condom manufacturers say getting more women to use female condoms remains a challenge in countries such as India where public talk of sex is still largely a taboo and men take decisions over sex and family planning.
"We are currently manufacturing around three million female condoms for the Indian market and overseas, but that is nothing compared to the 1,500 million male condoms that we produce annually," M. Ayyappan, chairman and managing director of HLL Lifecare Ltd, an Indian government-owned company told TrustLaw in an interview.
"While the female condom is growing in use internationally, it is not really happening in India .. it's high cost, conservatism over sex, ignorance and lack of availability."
SEX WORKER MARKET
The female condom or femidom has been on Western markets since the nineties, and while sales are growing globally at around 60 million annually, compared to 27 billion male condoms, it has been a disappointment in developing and emerging markets.
Regarded as the only woman-initiated method available to offer protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, it was seen by many gender rights experts as a tool to empower women.
But while that has not happened among the general population in countries like India, femidom sales have flourished with government bodies, charities and civil societies working with communities such as sex workers.
Ayyappan said most of his female condoms in India were sold to the government, which is promoting their use in HIV/AIDS schemes amongst sex workers - something which was challenging at first but has now become popular.
But taking it to the wider population has proved difficult, he said, adding that price, ignorance on its functionality and misconceptions about discomfort were key issues preventing stores from stocking it and people buying it.
Ayyappan, whose company sells India's popular "Moods" and "Ustaad" male condoms, said a packet of three male condoms is priced at 25 rupees (50 U.S. cents) compared to their female condom "Velvet" which costs 100 rupees for three.
HLL Lifecare Ltd plan to reduce the cost of female condoms by 50 percent, he said, with a new thinner, latex version next year and will take its manufacturing capacity to 25 million units from 7 million currently.
"I have hope that it can take off in India. Fifteen years ago, even with the male condom, men would refuse to wear it and say it was uncomfortable and they didn't know how to use it," he said.
"It will take another decade, but we can popularise the female condom in India."
(TrustLaw is a global centre for free legal assistance and anti-corruption news run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more TrustLaw stories, visit www.trust.org/trustlaw)