Women face profound health-related challenges such as heavy menstruation, fertility issues, pregnancy, postpartum depression, menopause, and sexual health issues. Yet deeply entrenched societal attitudes and taboos, especially towards women’s reproductive and sexual health, have continuously barred women from seeking medical help independently. For long, healthcare products and solutions have overlooked the need to design a holistic women’s portfolio that considers sociocultural norms along with the affordability and accessibility of its users. Now with the advent of FemTech,
armed with technology that addresses specific health needs, women across the globe will benefit. Simply put, FemTech encompasses a wide range of digital products and services that include wearables and apps that help women navigate their health. It also provides customised solutions for sexual, maternal, and menstrual health and other conditions that are likely to affect women.
FemTech encompasses a wide range of digital products and services that include wearables and apps that help women navigate their health.
Interestingly, FemTech was the erstwhile Soviet counterpart
of the US-based Tambrands Incorporated
as part of a joint business venture in the late 80s to the mid 90’s to manufacture tampons. Years later, in 2016, entrepreneur Ida Tin
, Founder of Clue
, a period tracking app coined the term FemTech and turned it into a powerful tool in the women’s health revolution
. It has since grown significantly, indicating a global market forecast worth US$ 60 billion by 2027, from US$ 18 billion in 2019.
The Femtech industry in India is also on the move, poised to grow at a healthy 17 percent from 2020 to 2026
, with funding seeing a massive increase of 91.4 percent
between 2017 to 2022. Femtech experts
have indicated that by 2026, the market will reach an estimated US$ 76 billion and the next few years will see substantial growth in reaching out to women across regions in India. Industry leaders
assert that Femtech ventures including the healthcare sector in general are increasingly acknowledging women’s specific healthcare needs and driving innovation in devices and solutions for women. According to reports
, women are 75 percent more likely than men to embrace digital tools for their healthcare needs which makes it a huge potential market.
Distribution of FemTechs by Region, 2021
Source: FemTech Industry Landscape Q2 2022
FemTech subsectors include providing services to a wide range of women’s health issues such as reproductive health and contraception, pregnancy and nursing, pelvic and uterine health care, menopausal care, and menstrual, mental and sexual health. Women’s wellness also makes up for an important segment of the industry which includes fitness and nutrition specific for women (e.g. menstrual cycle adaptations), tracking health-related data and combined solutions to advance well-being.
According to a strategic analytics agency
working on the emerging Femtech space, pregnancy and nursing subsectors take up about 22 percent of the total market share, and reproductive and contraception account for an estimated 19 percent, with menstrual health standing at 13 percent. The analysis further points out that consumer products remain the most common product type in FemTech, taking up about 22 percent of the total share such as feminine care products, and special apparel for addressing female health. It also states that another 16 percent make up for innovation-assisted sector solutions, devices that are designed to improve women’s sexual health, biomarkers and lifestyle trackers while digital platforms (educational and marketspaces) tally up at about 16 percent of the sector.
Pink tax controversy
Whilst there are many FemTech startups around the world that are committed to making a meaningful impact on women’s health, it does have its own share of controversies. Experts
have repeatedly claimed that mansplainers
are polluting the sector with a pink tax on products. The pink tax is gender-based pricing, an upcharge on products and services marketed for women and for which men are likely to pay less. Deriving its name from the observation that many of the products were colour-coded in pink, so feminine razors are likely to be sold at a premium price when marketed for women.
FemTech subsectors include providing services to a wide range of women’s health issues such as reproductive health and contraception, pregnancy and nursing, pelvic and uterine health care, menopausal care, and menstrual, mental and sexual health.
The ‘tampon or period tax
‘which refers to the sales tax or consumption levies such as value-added tax (VAT) applied to feminine hygiene items such as pads, liners, tampons, and menstrual cups has also been a hotly debated topic for many years. Jennifer Weiss-Wolf
, lawyer and co-founder of Period Equity
explains that the tampon tax disproportionately affects women across ages. “Period poverty”, has constantly fueled calls to abolish the tampon tax as the unaffordability of such products has larger repercussions on women’s daily lives, in their productive work spaces and has kept girls away from schools. According to the Thomas Reuters Foundation
, Kenya became one of the first countries in 2004 to scrap VAT on sanitary pads, thereafter at least 17 other countries have followed suit. Public outrage over the controversial 12 percent tax on feminine hygiene products was revoked by India in 2018
. These are clear signs that the FemTech industry needs to steer clear of such trappings or it will be defeated in its attempts to offer innovative solutions to meet women’s health challenges.
A rocky road ahead for Femtechs?
Despite the significant surge of interest and investments, the FemTech space still falls far behind other players in the healthcare sector. This can prove to be a major roadblock for startups not only in terms of scaling and gaining traction but also in the implementation of digital solutions which require substantive capital, as a recent study
has pointed out. It also states that although the overall investment in global Femtech startups has grown tenfold since 2012, it is struggling to procure sufficient funding due to the poor record of sizeable exits with 5 major exists taking place in 2021. As a relatively nascent field, the FemTech industry lags in terms of research with a meagre 4-percent allocation of development funds
for women’s healthcare products and services. So what is the problem? Figure 2 illustrates the findings of a survey
of 48 Femtech influencers across 16 countries including India on the future trend and points out some major challenges.
Major Challenges and Opportunities
Source: FemTech Industry Landscape Q2 2022
A largely male-dominated investor community often tends to blindside opportunities in this sector, primarily owing to a lack of knowledge or expertise
about women’s sexual well-being. Accelerator programme experts
have pointed out that while Femtech sub-sectors are generating interest products that target sexual health are still difficult to pitch to investors. Femtechs have also received a lot of flak for the lack of clarity in their data protection policies, as highlighted by a recent report
. Many consumers may not even be sufficiently aware of the extent of loss of privacy
. For long, technology in life sciences excluded women in medical trials, overwhelmingly catering to only the male body largely because of the belief that menstrual periods and pregnancy could affect trial results.
Gender-disaggregated data still stands to be scarcely used in studies thereby leaving out how women are differentially affected by both diseases and drugs.
Despite these roadblocks, Femtechs still possess enough potential to disrupt the healthcare landscape in several ways. It can bridge the gap between women’s personalised needs and prevailing societal norms that often dictate boundaries for women. It builds on socially taboo subjects such as fertility issues, contraception methods and sexual health as a targeted measure to help women seeking medical intervention in privacy. Increasing awareness about the Femtechs eco-system could well prove to be a boon for women across demographics and they can tap into the rural /urban market to offer their services and products. And many in India are well showing the way. Some startups such as Zealthy
have created a platform to understand women’s health issues through the use of native languages. CareNX Innovations
offers smartphone-integrated point-of-care diagnostics for women in remote villages and slums in India through healthcare workers.
Accelerator programme experts have pointed out that while Femtech sub-sectors are generating interest products that target sexual health are still difficult to pitch to investors.
According to a study
, the spaces that require attention include improving health care delivery through virtual clinics (Celes Care
) and direct-to-consumer prescription services, enabling women to take greater charge of their bodies through handy diagnostics such as trackers and wearables (Sirona); improving neglected medical diagnoses (Nirmai
); creating a network of conversations around stigmatised women’s health issues like fertility, menopause, and overall sexual health (Femtech India)
with delivery services to women in middle- and low-income countries. Another aspect to consider as experts
have maintained is regulating the Femtech space to ensure that the collection and processing of user data comply with data protection laws including procuring valid and ethical consent and conserving strict data security measures. Increasing outreach and engagement with consumers and healthcare influencers could also go a long way in creating visibility and usage for Femtechs. Existing data
have suggested that women comprised only 15 percent of venture capital partners in 2012. Creating more spaces for women’s leadership positions in senior venture capital roles, as founders and as investors can then perhaps can bridge the gender funding gap and help it become a flourishing and futuristic market for women’s healthcare.
Arundhatie Biswas is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation
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