Femtech – leveraging technology, female entrepreneurs around the world are making waves as they seek to empower and empower themselves.
It’s no secret that the tech industry has long been dominated by men. With all the accomplishments women have made around the world, you would think women in tech would be among them.
Alas, this is not the case.
However, does this mean that it will always be so?
Underrepresented women in Asia
Women in tech face many challenges, including the fact that they make up less than 25% of the workforce.
The fact that women are still underrepresented in STEM fields is truly amazing, especially considering the number of female inventors who have contributed breakthrough inventions and ideas throughout history.
Women in Asia are also underrepresented in tech entrepreneurship and leadership roles. The lack of female voices is not only disturbing but disheartening.
In response to this, there has been an increase in companies to enhance women’s empowerment through technology, known as women’s technology (Femtech).
From from innovative mobile apps to beautifully designed portable devices, female leaders have found success in the femtech industry.
Yet despite growing interest in recent years, the industry continues to be underappreciated despite high growth potential, especially in Southeast Asia.
Femtech the “daughter-in-law” of digital health
Although gender equality has been considered a social norm in most developed countries, unfortunately this is not the case in the rest of the world, especially in Southeast Asia.
In an interview with Asia technical yarn, Professor Yan LI from the Department of Information Systems, Decision Sciences and Statistics at Essec Business School in Singapore, shared that we are in the era of precision medicine and healthcare.
“We must recognize that it is time women to receive gender-specific treatment and care,said Professor Yan.
However, gender bias in medicine is still entrenched in many countries. Even with the development of digital health, some experts have said that Femtech is nothing but the son-in-law of digital health.
The Health Issues of Underserved Women in Southeast Asia
In South East Asia (SEA), women’s health is one of the most highlighted issues for women’s rights. Issues such as abortion, birth control and even menstruation have always been taboo for many to talk about openly.
A PitchBook study found that women spend approximately US$500 billion on gender-specific medical expenses each year. And yet, only 4% of total research and development targets women’s health issues.
“There are three common reasons why women’s health issues are underserved in this region of the world. The first would be that there is little or no formal or systematic sex education for women, which can lead to many misconceptions and prevent women from learning and seeking to take better care of their bodies,” said said Professor Yan.
Women were expected to remain out of sight during their menstruation in the past and in economically less developed countries. In some communities, menstruation is considered impure or embarrassing.
This makes it difficult for them to go to school or do daily activities.
For example, in Indonesia, some girls felt they could not wash their hair during their period; otherwise they would die.
Second, it is still a cultural taboo to talk openly about sexual wellness and infertility issues in many Asian cultures.
Last but not least, there is still a stigma to having or talking about genital diseases since the importance of feeling clean about a woman’s body is still deeply embedded in social norms in the region.
East vs. West: North America Leading the Global FemTech Market
the The global market size of Femtech was $40.2 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at an average CAGR of 13.3% from 2020 to 2025 to reach $75.1 billion.
North America is the undisputed leader with 55% of the total number of Femtech companies, followed by Europe at 25% and Asia at 8%.
“The development of the Femtech landscape is unbalanced because out of 1,300 companies, 24 companies are in Singapore, six in Thailand, three in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, respectively, and only two in Malaysia,” Professor Yan said.
Compared to the West, Femtech in the East is way behind. Even though Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, millions of people still live on less than US$2 a day.
The situation is even worse for women in the region. They are always tied to money-generating tasks, which prevents them from going to school or getting an education. Thus, access to technology is limited.
Empowering Women Tech Entrepreneurs
Professor Yan believes technology should help people at the bottom of the pyramid. This belief was passed on to her MBA students, who designed an app called Black and Pink to provide Indonesian women with more knowledge about reproductive health and raise awareness about puberty.
“Currently, 21% of the total market is still represented by pregnancy and breastfeeding products and services, followed by 17% dealing with reproductive health and contraception issues; Another 14% deal with menstrual health.
“But when talking about some important issues, women’s mental health is minimal as it is only less than 1% in all these categories,” Professor Yan said.
Mental health in Asia is not a topic that is often talked about openly, given how heavily stigmatized.
Although there has been a recent increase in awareness of mental health disorders, many still suffer alone and in silence, without seeking treatment.
“It is important to note that mental health differs between men and women; therefore, it is an untapped and underdeveloped market for entrepreneurs to focus on,” Professor Yan added.
Courage – the first step to venturing into Femtech
There are challenges for femtech entrepreneurs in a male-dominated society.
The venture capital funding scene is male-dominated and promoting to male investors who do not personally identify with women’s health issues will remain a challenge. In a survey conducted by Women Who Tech, nearly 50% of female founders were told they would raise more money if they were male. Meanwhile, 70% of women in tech say they’ve been treated differently at work because of their gender, compared to 11% of men in tech.
However, courage and understanding of the region’s specific cultures, market requirements and characteristics can propel women entrepreneurs to success.
“I think we, as women entrepreneurs, in major tech companies, have certain advantages over men. We understand user needs, pain points and culture.
“There is a misconception that the technology development situation in less developed countries, such as Southeast Asia, can pose challenges for launching new technology services locally.
However, according to the leapfrog theory, if countries wish to become richer, they must follow the same steps that have enabled developed economies to prosper. This could allow entrepreneurs to launch services in the poorest developing countries. Therefore, they may need to change their mindset,” Professor Yan said.
Femtech and the Hybrid Workplace
With the increase in the number of women in the workplace and a move towards gender equality, the demand for products tailored to the needs of women, girls and others has increased.
As companies increasingly realize the value of a diverse workforce, there is a growing demand for solutions that support women in their working lives.
One example is Ease Healthcare in Singapore, a telemedicine platform aimed at making healthcare more accessible, convenient and discreet.
Meanwhile, start-up EloCare is using the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to develop a wearable and mobile app to help women and clinicians track menopausal symptoms.
In Indonesia, Sehati TeleCTG is helping to improve infant and maternal mortality rates with its low-cost integrated fetal monitoring device, TeleCTG.
Although the path is not easy, there is certainly a growing awareness of femtech and women’s health.
The femtech industry has gained momentum in recent years due to growing consumer demand for more products that meet their specific needs and challenges.
With the increase number of female entrepreneurs and businesswomen in emerging markets, the future of Femtech in Southeast Asia looks optimistic, promising and holds great potential.