International Condom Day Celebrated in Kathmandu

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Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent
International Condom Day, which is marked internationally on 14 February, was celebrated in Nepal, on 13 February, 2015, with a public event held in central Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The event was facilitated by several NGOs, the Blue Diamond Society (Nepal’s national gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, queer and intersex peer-led advocacy organisation), Saarathi Nepal (a harm reduction service provision organisation which operates a peer-led program for female sex workers who inject drugs), the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (an international NGO which focuses on supporting sex workers, injecting drug users, HIV positive people, migrants and other communities at high risk of HIV) and the National Centre for AIDS and STI Control. Promoting the theme, “Condoms are Cool”, the event which has been celebrated annually in Kathmandu for the past 8 years, aimed to attract a broad cross section of Nepali society. International Condom Day was launched with a march through central Kathmandu and cumulated in a high profile public event which included speeches from community safer-sex advocates about the necessity of using for condoms for STI and HIV prevention and the distribution of safer-sex prophylactics, in addition to including performances from local musicians, dance troupes and

JJ Empower, a local Kathmandu band which performed at the event and supports a number of social causes, including harm reduction initiatives, expressed their support for International Condom Day during their performance. J.Joshi, the band’s lead singer and guitarist spoke about the need for young people to have access to sex education and to be empowered to know how and when to use condoms. He also added that he believes that HIV Information Education and Counselling (IEC) materials are not always the most effective method for educating the broader community on safer sex issues and that due to the embarrassment many people within Nepali society feel toward discussing sex and sexual satisfaction, art and music may be a more practical and appealing approach towards promoting issues surrounding sexual health.

In an interview with JJ Empower following their performance, band members, Malta and Rajib, added that they recognised that due to conservative attitudes toward sex within Nepali culture it is not common for young people to speak to their parents about sexual issues, hence the need for community public health initiatives to educate young people about strategies to protect themselves against STIs, HIV and unplanned pregnancies. According to the band, some Nepali parents may support their children using condoms if they engage in pre-marital sex; however, these parents may feel as though they are condoning or encouraging their children to engage in pre-marital sex if they discuss condom use or safer-sex issues with their children. The band members also added that sex education within schools is extremely limited and that they believe that the community should self-organise to challenge cultural attitudes which stigmatise women who engage in sex before marriage and/or engage in sex work as a profession. The band also stated that as there is no social security system in Nepal, condoms should be used as a family planning tool to avoid the burden of economically deprived families supporting large numbers of children.

Mr Joshi also added that the desire for sex is completely natural and to expect people to refrain from sex is unrealistic; hence, the need for peer- led HIV and STI prevention programs, rather than the local ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful, use a Condom) programs promoted by USAID funded projects. The ABC program was adopted as official United States policy in 2002 by USAID administrator Andrew Natsios.

Upesh Lal Shrestha, a peer Outreach Worker at Saarathi Nepal, said that promoting condom use amongst the injecting drug user community was an integral aspect of Saarathi’s work. Mr Lal Shrestha said, “Many female drug users engage in sex work to support their illicit drug use. It is important that sex workers are empowered to negotiate condom use with their clients. However, as it is common for Nepali men to use the services of sex workers, it is equally as important for male drug users who are clients of sex workers to understand why they should use condoms. Our organisation is dedicated to the prevention of HIV transmission, so we want to support international events such as International Condom Day to empower members of our community to protect themselves against HIV and STIs. The most effective method of HIV prevention amongst our community is through peer education and outreach activities which target both female drug using sex workers and the male drug using clients of sex workers. Because many of us have been personally impacted upon by HIV and/or STIs, we need our community to be active in promoting HIV awareness. Although there have been a number of government produced advertisements on television and radio promoting condom use, the promotion of safer sex in these contexts solely focuses on family planning and condoms as birth control. We also need the community to recognise that condoms are a highly effective means of protecting against HIV and STIs. We also want the community, particularly young people, to have a high awareness of the modes of transmission and symptoms of STIs. Many young people primarily get information about sex from watching pornographic films and from discussing sex with their friends. There is a distinct lack of knowledge about sexual health issues amongst young people, in addition to youths sharing misinformation about sex and sexual health with each other. We need young people to be well educated about sexual health issues so that they are sharing the correct information with each other and that a strong culture normalising condom use develops organically. However, it is not only young people who need to know more about sexual health, we need everyone in Nepali society to know how to use condoms properly- people should always check the expiry date on condoms, be aware of how to put on condoms, know how to dispose of used condoms and should also know where to access condoms. Prevention is always better than cure!”