PARIS (Reuters) - President Jacques Chirac's campaign spokeswoman Roselyne Bachelot marked International Women's Day on Friday by inaugurating France's first female-condom machine.
But the plan aimed at polishing the incumbent's feminist credentials ahead of the presidential election in May backfired when women protesters complained that the female condoms were three times the price of the versions made for men.
One female condom costs two euros ($1.76)--customers can snap up three of the male version for the same price.
Bachelot unveiled the new condom machines--blue for men, pink for women--in a central Paris metro station, one of five stations now equipped with them.
The female condom, a sac-like device inserted by the woman before sex, has been available in some countries for several years. But amid criticisms that its plastic crackles and that it reduces sensation for both partners, it has not won wide acceptance.
Bachelot, slightly suspect in conservative circles because she was the only right-wing deputy to support a "gay marriage" bill passed by the left-wing government, swept aside taboos over the female condom and dismissed suggestions it was "noisy."
The AIDS awareness group Act Up denounced Friday's event in a statement as a publicity stunt and said the conservative Chirac was "using the vagina as an electoral ploy."
Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, his chief rival in the two-round election ending on May 5, both used International Women's Day as a way to lobby for the key female vote.