Mika Koelma, Co-Founder of Hey Zomi, shares how femtech is transforming women’s healthcare and is breaking taboos.
Western medicine has historically been looked at through a gender-generic lens at best. More often than not, it’s been skewed with a male bias simply because of the gender of those at the forefront of scientific innovation and medical diagnosis. This left little room for the complexities and nuances of female health. Worldwide, there are countless stories of women receiving sub-standard treatment by a medical industry who doesn’t understand them, or worse, doesn’t care.
This has given rise to the term ‘medical misogyny’ – a fatal cocktail of social prejudice, medical ignorance and research exclusion. Thankfully, it was only a matter of time before emancipation. And this time, it came in the form of industry innovation known as ‘femtech’.
Femtech is shaking up the collective industries of science, medicine and technology as fearless females are creating solutions for issues that have quietly troubled women for years, menstruation being one of them. And the revolution has come at just the right time.
Femtech: breaking the taboo
Once upon a time, conversations about periods were taboo. Nowadays, we gladly share lived experiences of our menstruation in clear sight. The anonymity of social media has broken down many social barriers of shame and secrecy, helping to normalise the act of menstruation – and in turn, the femtech products that support it.
Real life is playing catch up. Hushed conversations about periods were once consigned to the school toilets – now, schools are offering free sanitary products and beginning to educate about bodies (although we still have a long way to go).
Brands are on board with ‘Mission Destigmatise’ too. In 2020, Pantone released Period Red in an attempt to normalise menstrual bleeding. More recently, Nike changed the colour of England’s female football team’s shorts from white to a more period-friendly dark blue.
For change to happen at a deep societal level, we need to have the backing of legislators. And it’s comforting to see that in some countries at least, there is progress being made.
Societal and product progress
In Australia in late 2022, a newly established government announced a National Women’s Health Advisory Council would be formed to address medical misogyny and look at a range of women’s health matters including menstruation, reproductive healthcare and menopause. Australia will also create the first Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain Clinics across the country, providing some no doubt welcome support to the one in nine women who suffer daily.
In parallel, the Australian femtech industry is booming with apps to relieve your menstrual cramps, products to aid with your monthly flow and underwear to let you bleed freely. There is a groundswell of female-founded businesses who are changing the conversation around menstruation – and investors are sitting up and taking note.
The period care market in Australia is big business, being valued at $630 million in 2020 with a projected growth of almost double that by 2030. Modibodi founder Kristy Young knows this all too well having recently sold her brand of leak-free period pants to a Swedish health and hygiene company for $140 million.
Hey Zomi is another example of femtech in action, as the first menstrual disc to be designed and made in Australia, the disc is designed to fit bodies better than cups or tampons for a more comfortable flow, thus furthering this product innovation to eradicate the hassle and burden of periods. But what makes Hey Zomi any different from other reusable players in the market? Listening to women, and leaning into innovation.
Hey Zomi have taken a deeper look at anatomy. Millennial sibling founders, Zoe and Mika, are of a generation raised on tampons and pads, and feel that women are still not educated enough on what goes on behind closed doors.
By looking at how and where the device sits in the body – cupping the cervix fully, rather than using suction – the Hey Zomi disc has revolutionised this space. Held in place by the pubic bone, the disc sits neatly tucked away, moulding to the individual’s unique body shape. Users are also raving about how it has relieved their menstrual cramps while going about their day with the device completely unnoticed. Wearers can even have intercourse with the device in place – mess free.
Made from medical grade silicone means it has a life expectancy of up to 5 years, which also taps into other issues of today: cost of living, convenience and sustainability. So, the tide is changing. But is it more of a slow flow than a sudden surge?
Are we there yet?
Because for all the good stuff happening in culture and commerce, there is still a fair amount of pushback around femtech from society at large. A recent headline from a popular mainstream media outlet in Australia said it all: “Aussie’s gross idea bought for $140 million”.
In order to ensure the strides made by femtech companies can continue within the next generation, education is of paramount importance. Whilst menstrual education is happening more than it was 20 years ago, it is being taught inconsistently. Our governments need to mandate better, more inclusive menstrual health education beginning in primary schools, continuing throughout puberty and including boys.
Socially, we need to think about how we use language. We need to ditch the old-fashioned stereotypes, cliches and euphemisms and call it what it is: simply bleeding, menstruation or periods. Language should be inclusive, reflecting the lived experiences of all menstruators.
We should continue to support the reusables market as this combats period poverty and sustainability issues. Reusables can play a big part in tackling the expense of period care products, as can proper legislation like the removal of the tampon tax on all period products. Getting current and future menstruators to skill up now in the areas that matter is crucial, not just for those who menstruate, but for society at large.