On my way to office every morning I pass by to the students’ clinic on campus but I find it tough to pass over at a condom box which reads – የኮንዶም ሳጥን -on the verandah of the clinic. The condoms are packed off in the container at no cost primarily for students but teachers and university workers can get if there is any urgent thump that necessitate a condom. DKT Ethiopia covers the bulk of the cost of the condoms. Kaleb*, senior electrical engineering student walks to the clinic and takes as many as he wants whenever the need arrives. Kaleb is grateful for DKT Ethiopia’s assistance. “I know so many students who need to use condoms, and they can’t because they are embarrassed of buying condoms from shops and sometimes condoms cost too much money.” he says. “This is frightening because that doesn’t mean they aren’t having sex.”
If not all but many of Ethiopian universities’ health centers have been handing out condoms to students for free since my time in Dilla College as an undergraduate student, but the issues of providing condoms for students in the campus have always been held under social dead bolt and are not discussed adequately. Now days as citizens start to discuss sexual taboo issues openly on the newly emerging FM-Radios however, that could all change. Hence, whether condoms falls under the preventive remedy and whether condoms should be deemed preventive medicine—and hence, free in the campuses —has sparked a debate from university students to teachers.
That’s because, should condoms available openly and freely, universities coeds across the country would be able to access it for free—something not all parents and educators think is a good idea. “Everyone is talking about it,” says Kaleb. “And everyone has an opinion.”
Supporters of offering condoms to students on campus freely argue that it would give students more independence over their sexual health and reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and STD cases at universities each year. “I have heard from many university students,” says one health worker of Arba Minch University students’ clinic. “And students feel very strongly about condoms being both free and accessible on campus.” He adds that condom is a lifesaving remedy and that offering it for free is “socially and economically responsible.” But opponents say free condoms will increase promiscuity and may even contribute to a rise in sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS.
Since condoms first became available on campus free seven years ago when I was in Dilla College, many proponents of offering free condoms to students on campus have credited it with everything from reducing unplanned pregnancies to decreasing the rate of HIV/AIDS amongst students. But how to access it have always been surrounded by controversy.
Kaleb* found that college students, in particular, are facing more barriers in trying to get condoms. Most of them are not financially independent, and often it’s logistically difficult to get condoms make due to lack of condom shops around universities campuses. On top of these buying condoms from shops freely has still big social shame amongst students. If condoms were available on campus, students could simply walk over to the condom box. In a document produced by DKT, that describes students’ condoms use in selected Ethiopian universities notes that the culture of condom use in universities is very law and it is costing many students with their life in the shape of unsafe abortion and STDs. “That’s not a price students should pay ,” says Kaleb.
Some of the teachers I have talked with for this piece don’t all agree that offering free condoms on campus is a good idea, though most maintain that the benefits far outweigh any risks. “Promoting condom use on campus is very safe for most students,” says an instructor who teaches in one of the health sciences departments of Arba Minch University. “Providing free condoms will decrease unplanned pregnancies, unfulfilled dreams, and early dropout from universities. We have an opportunity here to shape students’ lives for the better.”
But, that might not always be the case, says other teacher from same college of medicine and health sciences. He said he fears the condoms would lead to an increase in sexual promiscuity on campuses. What’s more, there might even be an increase in unplanned pregnancies, because many students do not use condoms correctly. Condom is effective only when it is used correctly. “Providing condoms to students might drive them to unnecessary sexual wishes,” he says. “Instead we should be teaching our students about being abstain from sex so they know when they start enjoying sex.”
Opponents often publicize abstinence-only education instead. But students such as Kefle are skeptical abstinence-only education work. “The answer is definitely not having students abstain from sex,” he says. “We are adults. We are going to have sex, and if the condom isn’t available, sex just isn’t going to be as safe.” What can you say?
*All names are changed for the sake of privacy