The female condom has received surprisingly little serious attention since its introduction in 1984. Given the numbers of women with HIV globally, international support for women's reproductive and sexual health and rights and the empowerment of women, and, not least, due to the demand expressed by users, one would have expected the female condom to be widely accessible 16 years after it first appeared. This expectation has not materialised; instead, the female condom has been marginalised in the international response to HIV and AIDS. This paper asks why and analyses the views and actions of users, providers, national governments and international public policymakers, using an analytical framework specifically designed to evaluate access to new health technologies in poor countries. We argue that universal access to female condoms is not primarily hampered by obstacles on the users' side, as is often alleged, nor by unwilling governments in developing countries, but that acceptability of the female condom is problematic mainly at the international policy level. This view is based on an extensive review of the literature, interviews with representatives of UNAIDS, UNFPA and other organisations, and a series of observations made during the International AIDS Conference in Mexico in August 2008.
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