Many of us are already accustomed to applications or devices that control many aspects of our lives. And at a time when regular access to doctors has been restricted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there seem to be more women turned to technology for their health. Indeed, a data campaign The farm It was recently estimated that only in the last six months of 2020 the number of companies under femtek umbrella increased from 369 to 581 in 36 countries.
These digital health products are part of a much larger field. “embodied technologies”That allow users to be aware of their bodily rhythms and functions in a way that seems safe, intimate and empowering. However, such products do not always offer affordable privacy policies or data protection commitments for women sold to third parties.
It’s not just a challenge for startups. Recently in the US the program for ovulation Flo reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission after the regulator claimed the company shared data from nearly 100 million users with third-party companies, including advertisers. Flo admits no wrongdoing. In a statement, the company said it did not share user health information without their permission. “We strive to ensure that the privacy of the personal health of our users is paramount,” the statement added.
Research also shows that despite the expansion of the market, many of these digital tools aimed at women are created, invested in and sold by men. Indeed, the UK government recently launched a call for evidence in preparation for the new women’s health strategy. In that call, then-Secretary of State for Health and Welfare Matt Hancock agreed that women’s health deserved a new approach. He said: “For generations, women have lived with a system of health care and assistance, mostly developed by men, for men.”
Unexplored and underfunded
Analysis of the global market for 2021, made by the Australian network FemTech Collective found Digital health companies that focus on women’s health have received only 3% of investment deals in the U.S. health sector since 2011. This suggests that the women’s digital health industry is not considered a viable economic enterprise. And this is despite the fact that women play the majority of health care roles, make the majority of health care decisions in their households and spend more money on medical supplies than men.
The report emphasizes that the women’s digital health industry lacks the infrastructure, capital or critical research that make men’s and gender-neutral markets. And too often the rules and laws developed around these products follow a “one size fits all” model. This leads to a broad and inflexible policy that does not take into account the complexity and uniqueness of women’s health experiences.
This is even more important when you consider that many built-in tracking devices or programs are aimed at managing, “improving” and monitor a woman’s intimate processes. Women have always been taught to feel alien from and ashamed of their own bodies – or that their bodily functions need to be “managed”. And there is a risk that such technology, if not carefully developed, could later get into it.
Trackers outside of menstruation and pregnancy
While the most well-known products of femtechnology include ovulation and pregnancy trackers, FemTech Collective Report also recognizes that “women are far more than their reproductive capabilities” and that “women’s health goes beyond fertility and reproduction.” Many of the current digital products designed for women also problematically assume white, heterosexual, wealthy, childbearing and able-bodied users. It is clear that more needs to be done to make investment and innovation in femtotechnology sustainable, affordable and inclusive – and to embrace the women who need it most.
But the good news is that the drive to develop more digital products and women’s health services requires more involvement. Organizations such as FemTech team and Women wearable transform the industry landscape by creating networks that accelerate women’s investment and innovation while advocating for more diversity. These networks also help connect women working in femtechnology – from designers and scientists to financiers and marketers. This helps position femtech not only as a “niche” part of the wider digital health field, but also as a living industry in itself.
Indeed, while it is remarkable that there are alternatives to the mainstream male-dominated medical technology industry, it is not enough for femtech products to be mere tools exclusively for “women”. That is why it is very important that the industry takes into account other forms of marginalization and women’s life experiences. DM / ML
This story was first published in Conversation.
Lindsay Balfour is an Associate Professor of Digital Media at the University of Coventry.