Femtech : What's in a name?
The term ‘Femtech’ (Female Technology) was coined only a few years ago by the founder of a fertility tracker app, Clue, in 2016. It refers to the technology that is developed in service of ‘women’s’ health, including periods, pregnancy, hormonal disorders, sexual wellness, and menopause. Although it’s a step ahead to dedicate a sector that completely focuses on these issues, it’s also a step back to name it Fem-tech. Why put health in a box? Why not coin a term inclusive for all those with a uterus and all those who face these issues? It’s not just women.
It’s been a long road for menstruators to stand up for basic human rights and control their bodies and health. It has often been a common practice to ignore gender in medical research, which has routinely failed to consider the crucial impact of gender and sex. A lot of menstrual health care falls in the realm of taboo that includes stuff no one wants to talk about. Menstruation, menopause, fertility, and even plain aging is not acknowledged enough.
While femtech has been introduced to secure vital funding from male-dominated venture capitalists, it also unnecessarily puts health in pigeonholes. Just like men and men’s health isn’t ‘mentech’, neither should this be. When we talk about fertility and figuring it out, it’s not just a female problem- it’s a family problem. Why feel the need to label health care as a ‘female solution’? The result is outright sexist digital products, as well as those that replicate existing gender inequities and reinforce negative gender norms and stereotypes in subtler ways.
Femtech poses quite a contradiction as it helps biological functions while simultaneously excluding non-binary and trans users. Multiple queer menstruators have reported feeling ‘erased’ by the femtech apps they tried as they were just not inclusive enough. This does nothing but create a world of 21st century technology where innovations open doors to create the same sexist divides again. In defining women by their biology, these products focus only on the needs of cis women, altogether excluding trans men and non-binary people. Though Femtech may have helped the talk surrounding stigma, taking a few products and labelling them ‘female’ is not the way to achieve it. It still reflects a good amount of marginalization and sub-categories. Combating maternal mortality among black mothers, providing inclusive care for LGBTQ+ and transgender groups, using prenatal remote monitoring devices, and providing sexual education are just a few of the issues overlooked by this industry.
Historically, femtech companies have ignored those from the LGBTQ+ community. Over half of LGBTQ+ people have experienced discrimination while seeking medical care, which leads to a higher rate of care avoidance. Given the negative health outcomes linked with a lack of culturally competent treatment, digital health and Femtech companies have a significant opportunity to satisfy the full healthcare needs of queer and trans people.
Terminology and industries have changed, but technology and innovation still remain stubbornly resistant to change. Femtech has the power and potential to be expansive and inclusive. We’re only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing and improving the health of all menstruators and all those with a vagina. Despite its growth, the femtech market definitely has unmet segments to work on. We need products and systems that challenge inequality and drive inclusive behavior.
We don’t need ‘fem’ tech, because real feminist technology needs to be so much more.
Author : Nibha Patil
Artwork : Khyati Patkar