Gloria dreams of a contraceptive and HIV prevention method that she can control. As a university student in Zambia, Gloria goes on dates in between working and studying. Some of the men have potential. She could imagine marrying one of them and having children together someday. Gloria relies on her partners to use male condoms—but sometimes they don’t, leaving her frustrated and scared.
Clara took a chance and bought 15 units of Whisper, a new female condom, to sell in her small shop in the fast-growing city of Mzuzu, Malawi. She was willing to test demand for the product in hopes of helping women in her community while also boosting her business.
“I became a single mother myself before I was ready to have a child,” Clara explains. “I wish there were more options for women to protect themselves.”
Clara learned about the Whisper Woman’s Condom from Kitty, a medical detailer who visited the shop. Kitty described how the product was different from earlier generations of the female condom, with new features designed to make it easy and comfortable to use. Female condoms like Whisper are the only woman-controlled method that provides triple protection against unintended pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
When it comes to female contraceptive products, innovation has been more evolutionary than revolutionary. With high unmet need still present, a huge opportunity exists to look at new ways to design products that respond to women’s needs and preferences, rather than forcing women to change their behaviors to suit existing products.
Human-centered design (HCD, also known as “user-centered” design) is a creative, solutions-based approach to problem-solving that puts “users” (in our case, women) at the center of the product design process. Users are actively engaged at every step to ensure their needs and expectations inform the design. We do this by testing the validity of our assumptions with users themselves, in an iterative fashion. This also allows us to move beyond the existing conditions of “what is” to the forward-thinking potential of “what if?” with sensitivity and empathy.
Vaginal rings are a novel drug delivery platform unlike other forms of existing contraceptives. Photo by James DeGroat, courtesy of the Population Council.
Expanding contraceptive options for voluntary family planning is critical for three reasons. First, different people have different needs for pregnancy protection depending on their own individual and family situations. Further, a woman’s needs may change as she progresses through her reproductive life. With that in mind, family planning programs that focus on high-quality services and human rights should offer a wide range of contraceptive options to meet her needs, wherever she’s at in life.