Technology brings women’s health issues into focus
Working women might be underserved when it comes to health issues, but as women’s empowerment gains momentum, more companies are turning their attention to women’s health by addressing their concerns with technology instead of brushing them aside as a personal matter.
In the past, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause were regarded as taboo subjects in the workplace and related concerns were left unaddressed as matters individuals were supposed to deal with on their own. Now some companies have begun efforts to use so-called femtech (products and services that incorporate technology to address women’s health) to improve the mental and physical status of women and take maximum advantage of their professional abilities. This article introduces two companies offering femtech services aimed at contributing to the creation of a society where everyone can shine.
Women’s health goes high-tech
Femtech, a portmanteau of female and technology, was coined by Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin, the chairwoman of Clue. The word has been gaining currency since around 2016 after she used it to solicit investment in the Clue menstrual cycle forecasting app she developed. The app garnered attention for its claim to solve worries specific to women, who represent half the population of the planet. Investment is gradually increasing, driven by expectations for growth.
Personal or global in scope?
What are the impacts of mental and physical health issues on working women? Needless to say, they are unique to women, but there are findings that suggest the impact goes beyond the personal and negatively affects society at large.
For example, menstruation is said to cause economic and societal losses. The annual financial burden from the associated symptoms, including loss of labor, doctors’ fees and medicine costs, is estimated to total about ¥700 billion, according to a report by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Healthcare Industries Division from March 2019.
In addition, female-specific events can cause some to give up their career plans. For example, women with fertility problems are often forced to accept changes in employment status or quit if treatment makes it too difficult to continue. Some give up promotions or even resign due to the difficulties posed by menopausal disorders. According to a March 2018 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, women forced to quit their jobs to continue fertility treatment came to 22.7%, with 9.7% giving up on treatment due to difficulties posed by work, bringing the total to 32.4%. This finding suggests changes and declines in mental and physical condition specific to women are making it too difficult to achieve their career goals.
The desire to address these female-specific issues was behind the birth of femtech. Now, the question is what are the solutions femtech aims to provide?
Women facing their bodies
“There are few opportunities for women to learn about their own bodies,” Risa Nasu, deputy general manager of MTI Ltd.’s Luna Luna business division, said. “It’s important for them to have the correct knowledge.”
Although many women experience severe menstrual pain and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, “there are many who do not regard premenstrual pains as disorders. They tend to take it for granted that they have to deal with the pains themselves simply because they are women,” Nasu said. Since it is difficult to compare one’s cramps with somebody else’s, women tend not to think of going to the doctor if they do not regard such pain as an illness, she said.
“Menstruation is a mechanism in which hormonal changes cause physical conditions to change, and it’s by no means a temperamental issue specific to women,” she said. “It’s important to understand that it’s a legitimate bodily mechanism.”
Therefore, acquiring practical knowledge about their own bodies is the first step women should take, Nasu said.
MTI’s femtech service helps women understand and manage their menstrual cycles so they can deal with their bodies and correctly understand them.