Atomic has safely returned from another UN mission, and will spend several weeks in Montreal before leaving for the Democratic Republic of Congo. When we met for dinner, she presented me with a gift of Herbal Virginity Soap, which she picked up during her last stint in Iraq.
Chuffed, I decided I had to do a little research. The soap is manufactured in Thailand “with ingredients of USA,” and is distributed under the name Argussy Paris, which I’m reasonably certain isn't located anywhere near France. Nevertheless, the soap is one of a line of products that includes “Gentleman Men Gel,” “Fitting Insertion,” and “Pink Nipple Lipstick,” as well as the disturbingly named “Whitening Face Cream.”
Considerably more disturbing is the company’s marketing strategy, which heavily targets southern African countries such as Malawi. Malawi is one of the world’s ten poorest countries, and the average life expectancy of its citizens is 36.5 years. This is due, in part, to the high rate of HIV infection that is common in the region, which is estimated to afflict close to 30% of the country’s population.
The fear of AIDS has reinforced the social value of female virginity, and has lowered the ideal age of a new wife to the early teens. Capitalizing on a desperate market of potentially unmarriageable women, Argussy Paris claims that its product will “tighten the vaginal muscle” if used daily, thus simulating virginity in its consumers.
The soap costs $8 US per bar. The average annual household income is $160 US per year. You do the math.
Women's groups in Africa are fighting to have the product banned, despite the ongoing efforts of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to impose radical stimulation of the free market. Wish 'em luck, will you?