You may have seen the movie The Barber Shop, or, maybe you haven’t! But there are very few Caribbean nationals who, upon hearing the words barber shop, hairdressing parlour or beauty salon, don’t immediately think of Saturday morning or late evening gossip, with tongues wagging faster than the snip of sharp scissors.

Whether the information shared is reliable, or is sprinkled liberally with rumours; one thing is certain, in addition to their weekly beauty or grooming treatment, patrons at these establishment and the proprietors, form a sturdy network of information sharing, which, if harnessed properly, can be extremely powerful and effective.

Recognising this, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and at least two of their partners on March 30, 2009, launched a partnership to improve the supply and demand for condoms including female condoms in the Caribbean. One of the main mandates of the UN agency, is providing information re Sexual and Reproductive Health.

“The joint venture involves UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund Sub-regional office for the Caribbean and two non-governmental organisations – Population Services International (PSI) Caribbean Office based in Trinidad and Tobago and International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR), based in New York,” Althea Buchanan, Advocacy and Information Officer at UNFPA stated.

She said the partnership seeks to support Caribbean governments to fulfill the commitment made in various international fora to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

“Universal access to reproductive health is tied to reproductive rights and relates to the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice,” Buchanan continued.

“The partnership will focus on positioning male and female condoms in the public and NGO sectors to ensure that all who need them can access them in order to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV; and prevent unwanted pregnancies,” she said. “As such, special emphasis will be placed on expanding the availability of condoms to non traditional outlets such as barbershops and hairdressing salons; sensitizing retailers about HIV/AIDS; and on reducing the cultural barriers that inhibit condom purchase and use.”

Julia Roberts, Country Director, of Population Service International, noted that while some condoms will be free of cost, others will be for sale at a reduced cost.

“Based on a study in the Caribbean on ability to pay, there is very little gap between the current price of condoms and the amount that persons who participated in the study said they were willing to pay for them,” she stated.

She said while condom use has increased significantly in the Caribbean, access is still sometimes a challenge.

“We would like to increase access so that someone who needs a condom can get one within 20 minutes,” she stated.

She said in addition to the hairdressing parlours and barber shops, the condoms would be available from corner shops, night clubs, in bus parks and taxi stands and key persons at those locations would be trained in the correct use of condoms so they could advise persons who might need the information.

While a date has not yet been set for the actual start of the programme in Jamaica, the programme has been successfully implemented in Guyana since 2007. Patrice Lafleur, Assistant Representative for UNFPA in Guyana, told Panos Caribbean that 20 barbershops and hairdressing salons in Guyana are a part of the programme in that country.

“The barbers and hairdressers were trained in Sexual Reproductive Health, HIV Prevention as well as gender-based violence prevention and we are now working on developing a hairdresser and barber shop association in order to have a more effective network,” she stated.

She said many people tend not to go to the clinics and health centres for sexual reproductive health information and products for a number of reasons which include levels of discrimination as well as cumbersome procedures before they are granted access. However, she said the non-traditional places provide an enabling atmosphere in which persons feel much more comfortable. She added that through the programme, the barbers and hairdressers were provided with television sets and DVD players as an incentive as wells as some equipment used in their trade. She said the establishments are also given DVDs with safe sex and reproductive health messages which they play at intervals for their clients’ viewing.

Director of UNFPA’s Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, Harold Robinson, said the partnership is in keeping with the Global Agreement on Reproductive Health Care for all by 2015 which was first ratified at the International Conference on Population and development (ICPD), in Cairo, in 1994.

“Fifteen years ago in Cairo, Egypt, 179 governments reaffirmed that every person has the right to determine the number and spacing of their children and to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health,” he said. “As a UN agency charged with the responsibility of advancing this agenda – (universal access to reproductive health), we recognize that if we are to be successful, we must be innovative and strategic in our approach. Besides, our experience tells us that there is value in … fostering connections among countries, organizations and individuals for our common cause.”

Lucella Campbell, Senior Programme Advisor of International Planned Parenthood, Western Hemisphere, in her address at the launch of the partnership, noted that condoms are a major and important strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, she said, the success of the initiative will depend on the individual commitment of persons to caring for the well being of those with whom they engage sexually.

“This initiative is also important in that it acknowledges not only the right of the man to having control in the sexual encounter, but in placing emphasis on the female condom it equally recognizes the right of the woman to influence that exchange,” she stated. (Panos)

Caption: Dress made of condoms by Brazilian designer Adriana Bertini.

Categories: Health

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