In order to popularise female condoms in Cameroon, local organisations promote them through hair salons, workrooms and other small shops. But instead of selling the condoms, the managers are giving them away to the clients in order to clear their stocks.
'La Chance Beauté' is a hair salon located in the Emana neighbourhood, in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. The customers are greeted with pink posters on the door, indicating the availability of 'Protectiv' female condoms for sale.
Before leaving the salon, Elise Ndi, one of the customers, asks, "don't you have some condoms for me?". Ngono, the hairdresser, then walks towards a box at the back of the salon and comes back with a small objet of the same colour as the poster. "There is only one left. The others are my samples," she says, handing out the object.
A Dutch initiative
In fact, the term 'condom' is commonly used for both the male and female contraceptive. In Cameroon, there is only one brand of female condoms: 'Protectiv'. They have been introduced and popularised since 2009 through the Dutch project, Universal Access to Female Condom (UAFC), in partnership with the
Cameroonian Association for Social Marketing (ACMS). For the distribution of the condoms, the ACMS has, in turn, teamed up with numerous other local organisations. These organisations are the ones that distribute the condoms in hair salons, workrooms and small shops, in order be sold to the clients.
Ngono from the hair salon admits that she battles to popularise the concept 'Protective'. "We are supposed to sell them for 100 CFA francs (0.15 Euros) each, but the women are not buying them," says the hairdresser. Ngono receives between 50 and 100 units every month and, in order to avoid stock build-up, "my manager told us to give them away to our friends and family."
Elise Ndi, admits that she does not use Protectiv regularly. "I take them in case I might need them. They are scarce on the market and I have to come all the way here to get some. Male condoms, on the other hand, are sold on every street corner. That's why I prefer them," she explains.
In the Emombo neighbourhood, in Yaoundé, where the organisation 'Jeunes dynamiques Azegué 3' was working, posters have been put up in a number of shops. The posters were meant to indicate that a team from the UAFC project was there and that female condoms were available.
However, that wasn't always the case. "I had some and I didn't order more because I struggled to clear the first stock," explains Ibrahim, a shopkeeper.
Laura, a young girl from the Jeunes Dynamiques Azegué 3, explains that her organisation has stopped the sensitisation almost a year ago. A young boy from another organisation explains: "we were supposed to sell the female condoms and get a percentage on our sales. But these condoms were hard to sell, which means we worked for nothing."
According to Ibrahim, these bad sales are also due to the cultural setup. "Women are a bit shy. No woman has ever walked into this shop to ask for a condom. But when we offer the condoms, they buy them", he explains.
Different city different reality
The Association of Active Cameroonian Youths (AJAC), headed by Jojo Ngui Omballa, does its sensitisation work in Douala. Jojo insists that the female condom is doing rather well in the economic capital.
"Every city has its realities. Here we work with approximately 69 hair salons and everything is going well," he says. "If the sensitisation does not work in Yaoundé, a different approach should be tried," concludes the head of AJAC.