The real reason why Mumbai women won't buy that female condom

Nov 09, 2017, 06:00 IST | Rupsa Chakraborty

mid-day's test drive >> Reporter's attempt to buy female condoms at medical stores makes her subject of mock and ridicule, and she is fleeced

mid-day's test drive >> Reporter's attempt to buy female condoms at medical stores makes her subject of mock and ridicule, and she is fleeced

"Nobody buys female condoms. Take the male condoms, instead," suggested a staffer at a 24/7 medical store, when a mid-day reporter posed as a customer to buy a packet of condoms. Said to be the most effective means of protection against HIV among women, the internal condom, also known as the female condom, is considered both empowering and liberating.

Grand Medical Store, Byculla

mid-day's reporter seen making pit stops across 24/7 medical stores in the city in the wee hours, on Tuesday. Pics/Sameer Markande
mid-day's reporter seen making pit stops across 24/7 medical stores in the city in the wee hours, on Tuesday. Pics/Sameer Markande

However, this is clearly not the case in the megalopolis of Mumbai, which, according to the 2011 census, boasts of a population of over 60 lakh women. During a test drive at 12 medical stores across South Mumbai and the suburbs, this reporter's unusual requirement was either met with awkward stares or outright refusal, enough to make any woman in the city think twice before contemplating to use one, let alone buy it. The stigma aside, finding a female condom at any of these stores, was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Parel Medical Store, Parel

Subject of speculation
If you ask for a female condom at any crowded medical store at night, you might become the subject of speculation with the staff either sizing you up or throwing awkward stares. A few staff were also taken aback by the brazenness of this reporter to ask for a female condom.

Also read: We don't use condoms, says woman who mothered nine children

Wellness Forever, Sion

One shopkeeper at Royal Chemist at Byculla, said, "We don't keep such products." When this reporter asked for a reason, he agitatedly said, "I don't know the reason, we have never kept it. Please go and check with some other store." The reporter had similar experiences at several other stores.

Sion Medico, Sion

According to women's right activist Archana Mehra "shopkeepers need to be sensitised when dealing with female customers". "No one takes offence or speculates if a man comes to buy condoms. But, the same people raise their eyebrows when a woman asks for it. If women are made to feel uncomfortable, they will never go and buy it," said Mehra.

Duping female customers
The staff at Grand Medical Store, near JJ Hospital, claimed they had only two packets of female condoms. The MRP on the box was Rs 55. However, when this reporter asked for a packet, the shopkeeper tried selling it for R110 each. The staff was alerted when the reporter threatened to file a complaint.

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At Metro Medical Store in Bandra tried, the staff tried to palm off a local female condom-brand as an imported product. It was being sold for Rs 200.

Commenting on the issue of 'overcharging' Anand Patwardhan, an expert in medical ethics and treasurer of Council For Fair Business Practices said, "Even if the supply is less, no one can charge over and above the MRP. This is exploitation. In such cases, one can file a complaint with the Legal Metrology department."

Another reason why women choose against buying condoms is the marked difference in pricing. While a packet of male condoms vary anywhere between Rs 8- Rs 12, female condom packets are being sold for anything above Rs 60, almost three times higher. "The lack of demand has also affected the supply," says Ravishankar Joshi, who has been working at a medical store in Worli for five years. "We only order one or two boxes of female condoms every week. Compared to that, we sell 10-15 male condoms daily," said Joshi.

"Young unemployed women can't afford such expensive condoms," said Dr Rekha Daver, former head of gynaecology department at JJ Hospital. "Female condoms are bigger in size and hence, women think twice before using it. These issues need to be addressed."

Also read - Married women subjected to forced, condomless sex by husbands: Study

Also, unlike male condoms that are provided free of cost at government and BMC-run hospitals, female condoms are given at a discounted rate, and is mostly targeted at sex workers. National Aids Control Organisation too doesn't have any provision for female condoms. "As far as I know that there is no provision for female condoms under NACO as it's difficult to use and needs training. It may be distributed at a few areas only," said Dr Shrikala Acharya, project director of Mumbai Aids Control Society.

Gynaecologist Dr Nikhil Datar said, "In the US and the UK, the demand for female condoms is really high. Considering, the population of working-independent women in Mumbai, authorities need to encourage its use further."

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How to use it?
A female condom is much wider than a male condom. They come in various sizes, depending on the shape of the vagina. Male and female condoms cannot be used together.

Pic/Nimesh Dave
Pic/Nimesh Dave

Choose a position that is comfortable for insertion, gently insert the closed end of the product into the vagina. Place the index figure inside the condom and push the inner sponge up. Be sure that the sheath is not twisted. The outer ring should remain on the outside of the vagina.

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