Thirty-two young Indigenous women from across Australia, many of whom work in sex education, met in Melbourne March 1-3 for the Snake Forum, Australia’s first ever national Indigenous women’s sexual health conference, to share ideas for breaking the silence around sexual health in Indigenous communities, reported ABC.
“It’s not spoken about, it’s hidden, it’s a taboo subject,” says Michelle Latorre, program coordinator at the charity Marie Stopes International Australia who organized the Snake Forum. “STI [sexually transmitted infection] rates like Chlamydia, for example, are four times higher in Indigenous populations, than non Indigenous. That can be because of access to health care, testing, or because it’s taboo to talk about it.”
The Snake Forum is part of the Snake project, a national Indigenous sexual health campaign that has launched a new condom brand, “Snake Condoms,” for Indigenous people. The culturally appropriate condoms come in the colors of the Aboriginal flag: red, yellow and black. The rubbers are available in flavors such as strawberry, vanilla and chocolate, respectively.
The Snake Project launched in 2004, when a group of Indigenous teenagers in Victoria, Australia wanted to improve sexual health outcomes in their generation. To help their peers approach the taboo subject, they came up with the idea for an “Indigenous-friendly” condom. “We wanted a condom that was ours, that was made for us. We thought that might break down the shame that was stopping people from using them,” group member Justine Williams, then 16, told ABC.
“Basically [Indigenous people] didn’t want to put something white on something black,” Lattorre says.
Making light of the situation makes people comfortable to pick up protection, she explains. On her charity’s blog, Latorre writes that, “Witty and irreverent slogans like ‘A trouser snake is the deadliest!’, ‘Never shed your skin!’, ‘Cover its head and it won’t bite you!’ and ‘Snakes are dangerous in the bush!’ are used to make the product appealing to the young people who are most at risk.”
ABC reports the Snake Condoms are now “hugely popular” and available at health clinics in Indigenous communities throughout the country.
Sexual health information, Snake Condoms and merchandise are available at www.snakecondoms.org.au.