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Walking for a Purpose: Thetsane Youth Innovate Messages to Encourage Peer Condom Use

16 February 2024 by Limpho Sello

Est Read Time: 6 min(s) 10 sec(s)

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Thetsane youth demonstrate female condom usage at the commemoration of the International Condom Day on 13 February 2024 in Maseru. Credit: Limpho Sello

In the vibrant community of Ha Thetsane in capital Maseru, the terms “Lezaza Phatleng” and “Condom Pokothong” carry a unique significance, loosely translating to “sunglasses on the forehead” and “condom in the pocket.”

These phrases symbolise the ingenious flair of Ha Thetsane youth, who are pioneering innovative approaches to make condom use a fashionable and essential habit among their peers.

Their innovative approach aligns with the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s emphasis on creative strategies to promote condom use among the masses.

Working under the umbrella of the Boipusong HIV and AIDS Youth Association (BOHAYA), these young people are tirelessly crafting trendy messages to encourage condom use among their peers.

“Youths must get condoms and use them,” asserts BOHAYA Executive Director Malefane Maleoa.

Maleoa made this statement during an interview with Uncensored News, on the sidelines of a peaceful march held in Thetsane, Maseru, to commemorate International Condom Day on February 13th.

WHO says International Condom Day holds significant importance, as it sheds light on the importance of condoms as a “safe, inexpensive, and highly effective tool to prevent transmission of HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unplanned pregnancies.”

WHO further explains that both male and female condoms are effective when used correctly. Male condoms, also referred to as external condoms, are commonly used sheaths or coverings that fit over a man’s erect penis before penetration.

Additionally, WHO says female condoms, known as internal condoms, are also available sheaths or linings that fit inside the vagina before penetration.

“When using condoms, personal lubricants (also known as lube) make it less likely that the condom will break, slip or fall off, which increases protection against unintended pregnancy and most STIs, including HIV,” explains WHO.

It adds: “Use of a water- or silicone-based lube is recommended, as other types may cause the condom to break down, such as kitchen oil, butter and hand lotion.”

Walking for a purpose

The sun blazes relentlessly, offering no respite from the scorching heat wave that descended upon Lesotho in the second week of February.

Undeterred by the intense sunlight, Thetsane youth emerged, armed with umbrellas and sunhats, to mark International Condom Day at Lifefo Football Ground in Thetsane, Maseru.

Thetsane youth commemorated International Condom Day on 13 February 2024. Credit: Limpho Sello

In 2024, the global community observed International Condom Day under the theme: “The imperative to re-engage, reinvigorate, and re-educate about condoms is paramount.”

In accordance with this theme, BOYAHA collaborated with the United Nations Population’s Fund (UNFPA) to organise and hold a peaceful march on February 13th.

At this event, Maleoa emphasised, “Sex and condoms are inseparable. One cannot talk about sex without mentioning the correct and consistent use of condoms.”

“A condom protects young people from STIs and unintended pregnancy, making penetration even smoother due to its lubricants,” Maleoa elucidated.

He acknowledged that in some cases, young people engage in transactional sex, stating that the lubricant on condoms helps in situations where the woman is not sufficiently lubricated for smooth penetration.

“That is why today we seize the opportunity to remind people about the correct and consistent use of condoms,” he asserted.

Maleoa highlighted prevalent myths in society about condom usage, including claims that condoms cause kidney diseases or are too tight to wear. He emphasised that these myths can be dispelled by disseminating proper messages about condom use.

“We are here today (February 13th) to remind people about the importance of condoms, their wider distribution, and to provide accurate demonstrations of their use,” Maleoa emphasised.

Condoms serve as multiple protection, significantly reducing the chances of unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV infections.

“Unfortunately, statistics in Lesotho are not very positive,” noted Innocent Modisaotsile, UNFPA Country Representative.

“Lesotho’s HIV prevalence is at 22.7 percent, with new HIV incidences of 5,000 per annum and Early and Unintended Pregnancies at 19 percent. Studies have shown that most of the preventable maternal deaths are attributable to early unintended pregnancies that result in unsafe abortions and complicated deliveries.”

To address these maternal challenges, Modisaotsile advocates for the proper use of condoms. He argues that proper and consistent use of condoms empowers a girl child to decide a future free from unplanned, unintended, and unwanted pregnancies.

“To ensure that we do not deny a girl child the opportunity to continue with their education, we need those who are sexually active to use a condom to protect against unplanned, unintended, and unwanted pregnancies,” he lamented.

He emphasised the tragic consequences of unwanted pregnancies, including unsafe abortions and maternal mortality.

Advocating for inclusivity: voices of visually impaired activists in Lesotho’s bicentennial celebration

As Lesotho celebrates its bicentennial, visually impaired advocate Mpeo Kherehloa pleads for inclusivity in commemorating 200 years since the formation of the Basotho nation by King Moshoeshoe I. This milestone reflects on the nation’s clandestine preservation, which, according to Modisaotsile, necessitates proper healthcare.

“As we celebrate these 200 years of existence, we need to ask ourselves what can be done to ensure that we no longer have new HIV infections. What more can be done to ensure the elimination of unintended pregnancies that end in unsafe abortions and death?” Modisaotsile questioned.

At 23, Mpeo Kherehloa, visually impaired, advocates for the rights of adolescents, youth, and women with disabilities. She emphasises that this group is not immune to HIV and AIDS issues, underscoring the importance of including condom education in HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) initiatives targeting women with disabilities.

“Lack of education, sexual abuse, and gender-based violence are key contributing factors to high HIV prevalence among women with disabilities, especially those in the highlands,” Kherehloa stated.

“I, for one, am visually impaired. When you demonstrate the use of a condom, you are demonstrating for those with eyesight. We feel excluded because we really cannot relate,” Kherehloa expressed.

Despite knowing how to correctly use a condom, Kherehloa appeals to UNFPA to ensure that all SRHR messaging, including condom usage, is inclusive to close the information gap within the visually impaired community.

Modisaotsile acknowledges the need to improve condom accessibility, especially for persons with disabilities.

“We are called upon to re-educate, and I think individuals with disabilities have enlightened us about the limitations of our methods, which is an integral part of the necessary education,” he remarked.

He emphasised the importance of hearing from persons with disabilities and urged for tailored communication to ensure inclusivity.

“Let’s refrain from using phrases like ‘do you see this condom?’ as they may not have sight. Similarly, let’s not assume they can hear us when they may not be able to. We must devise inclusive methods to ensure that no one is left behind,” he added.

UNFPA Country Representative, Innocent Modisaotsile, addresses attendees at the International Condom Day in Maseru on 13 February 2024. Credit: Limpho Sello

Empowering women: Encouragement to carry their own condoms

Situated in the bustling Thetsane industrial area, renowned as one of Lesotho’s busiest hubs, lies a thriving clothing industry, second only to the Lesotho government in employment opportunities. Despite housing some of the country’s largest factories, Thetsane grapples with high rates of unemployment among its youth.

Boipusong HIV and AIDS Youth Association (BOHAYA), Executive Director, Malefane Maleoa highlights that this economic landscape fosters unprotected sexual activities among young people, who often engage in transactional or intergenerational sex. In response, Maleoa advocates for the availability of condoms for all, emphasising the importance of accessibility and convenience.

“There’s reluctance to use condoms due to their unavailability or lack of accessibility at the convenience of sexual partners. Additionally, factors like alcohol and drug consumption contribute to forgetfulness regarding condom usage. Preferences for specific condom types, such as flavoured ones, and mistrust in the quality of free condoms also pose challenges,” Maleoa explained.

He stressed, “No condom is better than the other. Youths must get condoms and use them.”

Maleoa underscored immediate gaps that need addressing, including Lesotho’s heavy reliance on development partners for commodities like condoms.

“In addition, there’s limited awareness and availability of female condoms. It’s crucial to promote their use intentionally. Women should take ownership and responsibility for always having condoms with them. It shouldn’t solely be the responsibility of one partner,” he added.

In alignment with the 90-90-90 goals aimed at ending AIDS by 2030, UNFPA Country Representative, Innocent Modisaotsile, reaffirmed UNFPA’s commitment to supporting Lesotho’s efforts to combat HIV.

“On this Condom Day, we reaffirm our commitment to the vision of zero new HIV infections in Lesotho. We advocate for consistent and correct condom use to reduce the risk of STIs, as condoms are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV,” Modisaotsile asserted.

“With Lesotho’s youthful population, there’s immense potential for a thriving future, provided that youth energies are positively directed. As young people, “we” aspire to avoid unintended pregnancies, HIV, and STIs. To achieve this, we can opt to ‘PLUG ‘N PLAY’ to safeguard our future,” he concluded.

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