Rubbing it the wrong way: condom-grabbing tourists

Posted on August 20, 2009.

A Femidom demo

A Femidom demo. Photo: M. Sayagues/Irin

In a contest for irresponsible tourism, taking the last two female condoms at a Botswana border post as a souvenir would run neck-and-neck with littering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve with soda cans. Hey, spare a thought for a sister: a local woman might need them. I mean the condoms, not the soda cans.

Journalist Bridget Hilton-Barber writes, in the South African weekly Mail & Guardian, about the female condom’s popularity among Batswana women. (Femidoms rub the right way, 14 August). Then she plucked the last ones at the border post, as a souvenir, to lie  in her office drawer.

Well, their popularity is a very good reason to leave the condoms in the box for someone who wants to use them.

Correction:  Someone who needs to use them.

An average of three out of ten pregnant women at public antenatal clinics in Botswana are HIV-positive. This is an improvement over ten years ago, when four or five out of ten pregnant women were HIV-positive. Condoms helped achieve this drop. (Read about AIDS in Botswana hereComes with a price

Condoms have a cost and female condoms are the most expensive, even when subsidized by donors. A male condom costs US$0,4; a female condom, US$2.50.


Photo: M. Sayagues/Irin

In March, its sole manufacturer, Female Health Company, announced a cheaper version in synthetic rubber instead of polyurethane that will cost around US$0,60 but is not yet available.

Looks cheap? Remember, many Africans live on less than one dollar a day.

Besides price, supply is a problem. Logistics bottlenecks plague the delivery of goods in Africa, from life-saving antiretrovirals to malaria pills, from sanitary pads to birth control pills, from car spares to school books, from snail mail to email.

There is no difference between a female condom in Botswana, South Africa or Holland, I can assure you. The difference is that a consumer in Holland can buy one or get a free one anytime she wants. In Africa, it ain’t that easy.

So control your grabbing impulse, dear tourist. Have you heard of sustainable fishing and harvesting - or condom plucking? You will be doing a sister a favour by leaving those condoms  in the box if you don’t need them.

If you want to see a Femidom, buy one at a drugstore back home.

Responsible tourism  is more than eschewing python boots and turtle soup or using the  towels at the luxury safari camp more than once.

And tell the tour operator not to allow his Dutch clients to pluck condoms for keepsake either. Would they take the KLM airplane life jackets as souvenirs?

This is SO not rubbing it the right way.