Maximum Diva

 

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In the making for the past year and a half, the Maximum Diva Woman Condom is now ready to be introduced to the world! The Society for Family Health (SFH) has finally received the product in country with the brand established and has begun recruiting the Interpersonal communicators (IPC agents) to sell the message of women’s empowerment via this new reproductive health option. So, through this season of product preparation, it has been an exciting time to be a part of the social marketing and communications team at SFH. AND Lute and I got to participate in the first IPC training conducted by our IPC Manager, James Zimba, to our Maximum Diva Woman Condom brand ambassador, Cleo the Ice Queen!

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Cleo is a well renowned artist in Zambia who gained even further notoriety after living in the “Big Brother Africa” house. Not only did we get to be amongst the first people in the office to rock the Maximum Diva Brand (aka neon green and pink polos), but we also had the chance to hang out with the Ice Queen herself and talk about sex in front of brightly colored and branded materials.

So what is the big deal with these condoms?

After extensive research and iterative development following the overwhelmingly negative feedback that SFH received after their first female condom distribution, the Maximum Diva Condom has been manufactured to have improved user experience. The improvements are evidenced by easier product insertion (which is a huge issue that exists in this market since male condoms are often easier to put on correctly) and lack of sound during sex due to the new material used in manufacturing (no more latex!).

As the only designer at SFH, I am excited to see first hand the utilization of human centered design and iterations as it relates to products in the social impact space. I am excited to follow the product’s acceptance and see if the claims of the new product prove to be true in the field since they are now being sold on the market!

CONGRATS TO SFH for a successful LAUNCH of the MAXIMUM DIVA FEMALE CONDOMS and to my maximum diva co-fellow for being the launch coordinator!

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Female Condoms for All

Less than 1% of the condoms in the world are female condoms. Isn’t that peculiar? With the global population boasting a demographic with a female majority, why is the prevalence of and access to female condoms so low? 

Well, female condoms are similar to male condoms in their materiality and overall functionality; however, they differ because they are the only contraceptive option controlled by women which has the ability to protect them from both unwanted pregnancies and most sexually transmitted infections. Female condoms represent women’s empowerment and enable women to take control of their reproductive health on their own terms.

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Unfortunately, a host of barriers exist which impact women who seek to utilize female condoms. The widespread lack of education about the benefits of these condoms and the lack of education on the proper technique to use them hinder their effectiveness and leads to frustration to the user. Female condoms also challenge traditional gender roles as it relates to decision making and power in the bedroom; this can be viewed as a threat to masculinity in some cultures and communities. Statistics also highlight the fact that female condoms typically cost about $2 more than male condoms and may be perceived as a ‘less effective’ option due to confusing and, often times, incorrect user experience which decreases the product’s effectiveness.

Despite barriers ranging from a lack of product education, to the complexities of gender roles, to overall product costs, a series of country programs have proven that once people are educated on the proper use and benefit of female condoms, customers are born. Organizations such as Population Services International and its Zambian Affiliate, the Society for Family Health, have increasingly promoted awareness and educational campaigns about female condoms; consequently, a higher demand for them has been created. According to the Female Condoms for All UAFC Joint Program, civil society organizations, the government, United Nations agencies and the private sector are all required to begin improving the accessibility of female condoms by creating more low cost options which are widely distributed and available in even the most resource poor communities.

As a Design Specialist and member of the Communications team at the Society for Family Health (SFH), the top social marketing NGO in Zambia, I have seen firsthand the commitment of SFH to family planning and reproductive health advocacy. With an exciting new product in the pipeline, SFH stands at the forefront of conversations about what it means to truly have sustainably good reproductive health. My coworker Lute and I have participated in a female condom awareness campaign where we have posted myth-busting tips on social media, facilitated competitions such as Dance4Demand where people dance for access to female condoms, and organized a Pink Out day where the entire staff at SFH headquarters wore pink in solidarity for Global Female Condom Day. Our work led our team to be featured on a local Zambian radio station called Millennium to talk about the importance of breaking the stigma around female condoms through education and awareness.

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My support for reliable reproductive health and family planning services around the world has been solidified by serving as a member of this dynamic female condom promoting team in a country where gender equality is lacking, where in 2013 there were 12,500 recorded unwanted pregnancies in primary schools, and where the prevalence of HIV is documented in 14.3% of people between the ages of 15-49. These facts have been firmly registered in my mind during a time when there is an escalating debate in America about funding for Planned Parenthood. As a global health activist and a southern Christian female engaged in the fight for social justice, I believe in equity and have never had a stronger conviction about the dire need for comprehensive and affordable sexual healthcare for all people in order to overcome health disparities and for humanity to collectively realize its highest potential. I believe that with increased support and more widespread access, female condoms will change the game of reproductive health around the world.

I #standwithPP.

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VMMC

This week, Lute and I had the privilege of attending the launch of Society for Family Health’s Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision Campaign (VMMC) with the rest of the Communications team. It was Tuesday, and we had just concluded a long VMMC meeting at the office when Lute and I received an email informing us that we were invited to attend the launch the next day! One of our co-workers agreed to pick us up at 6:30am near Kepa to take us to the launch in the Matero Compound. Of course we were sporting our VMMC tshirts and were excited to represent SFH at the event; however, it was SO COLD. Jeans and jackets were a must in terms of wardrobe that day!

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When we arrived, much of the decorations had been set up so we were responsible for distributing awareness information and setting up the pop-up banners in order to complete the branding for the event.

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Around 8:30am, the event began with a marching band to bring awareness of VMMC to the community. The event proceeded with a series of speakers including doctors and government representatives in addition to a slew of press. There was traditional African dancing and drumming and even a skit was performed that showcased some of the common myths and fears that barred men from moving forward with the surgery.

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The overall goal of the event was to break the stigma surrounding such a sensitive topic by calling for the cultural acceptance of VMMC because of how much the procedure has been proven to significantly improve community health. In fact, VMMC procedures reduce the spread of heterosexual HIV by about 60%, which is huge! Despite the weather and perhaps awkwardness that some people felt, overall the event was a success. And I even got to play the drums with some cute new little friends! I am excited for future launches that we will participate in at the Society for Family Health!

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From Poop to Sex

I am known for being the poop girl. Poop princess. Poop fairy. “Everybody Poops” girl. You name it! I’ve heard them and embrace them all because for the past 4 years-arguably longer- toilets have really intrigued me. From loving my Betsy Wetsy doll and my potty training toilet to analyzing toilets as an abstract form of windows during Common First Year as a freshmen in college (check out that video and I am at 55 seconds), I have somehow always found my way to toilets. It’s like a magnetic force or something.

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Yes, I do understand that the aforementioned statements are just plain weird; however, once my middle school self realized that weird is actually pretty cool, I have fully embraced it. I say all of this because I feel like this connection that I have felt to understanding toilets and using them as a tool for health advocacy has really prepared me to be a full fledged sanitation activist who strives to learn more about this space everyday.

Over the course of this last year, I have been in situations where I talk about poop-like everything related to poop including genital cleansing- with giggly 4th graders, with “Im too cool for school” high schoolers, with corporate American  middle-aged suits wearers, with strangers, with loved ones—with anyone and everyone. And I love it A part of the overall mission of Wish for WASH has always been to help normalize toilet talk because you cannot fix problems that you cannot talk about.

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And then, the universe conspired and I ended up in Zambia working at Society for Family Health as a reproductive health advocate and designer and I was very overwhelmed. Maybe it is my southern, faith-based and cotillion- taught roots that have always made me squeamish around public conversations about sex. So much so that I would excuse myself during the STI lectures in middle school for fear of passing out or often sit silently during sex conversations during high school table gossip. There are some things that I viewed strictly as private matters-and sex has always been one of them. This point of contention between how I have historically thought and my global health career trajectory hit me hard during our first week at SFH when Lute and I were in a board room meeting with our male colleagues where the conversation began by discussing vaginas in relation to a new female condom design. I was in shock.  IT GOT REAL REAL QUICK. Going on a tour of the condom warehouse the next day where we saw circumcision models used to teach people how circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV in men by 60% literally made me almost pass out at first glance. 

I immediately reverted to my classic reaction of discomfort and a severe case of awkwardness-leading me to question myself. Am I actually capable of doing this work? I began to analyze myself and  was later reminded by several members of my ZamFam that my innate reaction to reproductive health speak was exactly the same as most people’s reaction to toilet talk and things like genital cleansing. And that’s when it clicked for me.

While I may not be working on exactly WASH or toilets at SFH, much of the work being done here is extraordinarily similar because we are normalizing the conversation surrounding a historically taboo topic and advocating for health equity in a space that is long overdue for some serious innovation while simultaneously working towards women’s empowerment and social justice. That mouthful of a sentence- that reality-changed my thought process and approach to this work entirely. I don’t work in siloed spaces of just WASH or just reproductive health. Whatever I do, I will work towards social change and health equity which ultimately DOES make me capable of doing meaningful work beyond my sphere of comfort.  

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NOW I am excited to bring my creative ideas to the table on how to engage people in the sex conversation so that one day all people are empowered to make educated decisions regarding their health and have access to contraception and care for the benefit of themselves and their families. Reproductive health advocacy and talking about sex is important, and I realized that feeling uncomfortable about it was a waste of time and energy. It was a waste of this incredible opportunity that I have been blessed with to learn and grow. Behavioral change is very difficult, and not being weirded out every 5 seconds while in perpetual sex conversations is a process that I have committed to take moving forward. In order to truly have an impact during my year here, I HAVE to engage in these conversation and realize that life aint always pretty or comfortable, but that there is an inherent beauty in realness that has the power to activate lasting and meaningful change.

WASH and Reproductive Health.

Poop and Sex.

Us and them.

To me, the lines of separation are blurred. They might appear differently on the outside, but in the end, we are all connected and are desperately needed in the fight for health equity. Screw squeamishness and awkwardness in these contexts.

Poop and sex are a part of the human experience, and it’s about damn time that we start acting like it.

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To check out more about how much I love being at the Society for Family Health in Zambia while working on Wish for WASH, check out my PSI article feature here!