Condoms on the catwalk


One of the 10 spectacular condom gowns
created by Emebet Alemu of the Zalef
Fine Art and Fashion Design Institute, on
the catwalk at the Hilton Hotel in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia.
(Image: DKT)

Former Miss Ethiopia Hayat Ahmed, owner
of the country’s first condom café.
(Image: Tesfalem Woldes, Irin)

• Andrew Piller
Director: DKT Ethiopia
+251 11 663 22 22
• John Harris
Director: DKT South Africa
+27 73 544 5142

Latex was the fabric of choice at a fashion show in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa recently, where all the designer garments on the catwalk were crafted from 10 000 male and female condoms of all colours and sizes.

Held in January and organised by social marketing group DKT with the Zalef Fine Art and Fashion Design Institute, the Condom Clothes Fashion Show put 10 spectacular condom-crafted dresses on display in an attempt to lessen the stigma attached to condoms in the East African country.

“In Ethiopia, condoms have a bad image; people are afraid when they want to buy condoms at the supermarket – they even try to hide the condoms quickly after they have bought them,” said Emebet Alemu, designer of the dresses and organiser of the show.

“We wanted to change that by using an art event; the show will open people’s minds a little … maybe it will make them seem more normal for people.”

The latex garments were later modelled at four additional shows, held under the ABC theme of “Abstain, Be faithful and use Condoms”, at the Addis Hilton Hotel. Organisers plan to also take the show to the major regional city of Adama.

A 2008 study published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Development and conducted in the town of Adwa, about 1 000 kilometres north of Addis Ababa, found that 46% of respondents believed that people who used condoms were promiscuous.

Emebet Abu, DKT Ethiopia’s head of communications, said the condom fashion campaign was tailored to the youth, with a view to highlighting condoms as an additional option and not a replacement for abstinence or fidelity as methods of HIV prevention.

“The idea of the show was to target young people, who like fashion and design,” he said. “We also teach abstinence and to be faithful, but some young people will not abstain or be faithful; they may have more than one partner already so they must use condoms.”

The fashion initiative is the latest move by DKT to try to break the stigma associated with condom use in Ethiopia. In 2009, it ran a two-month campaign to distribute condoms and kerosene to house helpers in the capital, it set up a condom café in Addis.

In the café, which is owned by former Miss Ethiopia Hayat Ahmed, each order of coffee comes with a packet of “Sensation” condoms, served in “Sensation” cups by staff wearing “Sensation” T-shirts.

“I wanted to link business with a message for sexually active people,” said Ahmed. “I am the brand ambassador for Sensation condoms in Ethiopia, and I want to spread the message that condoms can protect you from HIV/Aids.”

Her face adorns billboards and she regularly promotes condom use on Ethiopia’s only television station. “When I walk down the road even children recognise me,” she said. “But they do not call me Hayat; they call me Sensation.”

Coffee is widely thought to have originated in Ethiopia, where it is extremely popular. Ahmed’s café, modelled on “condom bars” in Asia, managed to hand out almost 900 condoms within two days of opening its doors.

Reaction to the free condoms has been mixed, with older patrons tending to disapprove, and younger ones sometimes enthusiastically asking for a second packet.

“We have had young people come in and ask ‘Is it true that you actually give free condoms?’,” said one waiter. “When we say, ‘Yes’, their faces brighten up and they quickly order. But we have also had people who get shocked when we bring the bill with a condom, some saying we are promoting immorality.”

Ahmed intends to open more cafés in the capital and other towns, and continue promoting various anti-HIV strategies, including abstinence and faithfulness. She plans expand the “condom bars” concept to other African countries.

“A lot of people in Ethiopia are ashamed of talking about or using condoms,” she said. “Yet some companies put condoms in their toilets and when you go to look, each day, the boxes are empty. I don’t care if the condoms are used behind closed doors or in public – as long as many people use them.”

Ethiopia’s HIV prevalence is estimated at 2%t among sexually active people aged 15 to 49. According to a report by the Federal HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Office, between 2000 and 2005 condom use among males increased from 30.3% to 51.9%, and among females from 13.4% to 23.6%.

According to Ethiopian government data, 50% of public sector institutions and 20% of private businesses have mainstreamed HIV/AIDS prevention in their operational policies.