Femtech: a rising trend in ASEAN

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Femtech — a category of software, products or services that use technology to improve women's health — was born as a response to the conscious need for information, specific treatments and health support of women around the world. In the Asia-Pacific region, where often topics such as abortion, period and menopause are still considered taboo, this sector is growing rapidly, with Singapore leading the trend.

Women account for half of the world's population, yet technology companies that cater to their specific health needs cover just a tiny share of the global tech market. Yan Li, professor of Digital Transformation at the ESSEC Asia-Pacific Business School in Singapore, argues that women's health has historically been disregarded not only by governments but also by the medical industry. In an interview to Nikkei Asia, she said that "women's healthcare is considered a niche industry. Many drug studies are not even tested on female subjects so women are more likely to suffer an accidental overdose." Yan Li's claims are also reflected in a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2018: women make up for only 22% of subjects involved in Phase 1 drug trials.

The term 'femtech' was first coined in 2016 by Ida Tin, founder of Clue — an ovulation and period-tracking app — and indicates any software, product or service that uses technology to improve women's health. It is a response to the conscious need for information, specific treatments and health support of women around the world.

In 2019, the femtech industry generated $820.6 million in global revenues and received $592 million in venture capital investments according to PitchBook, a financial research and data company. A large number of apps and tech companies have entered the market to address women's specific needs, including menstrual and fertility monitoring, solutions for pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause, as well as developing specific programs for diagnosing and monitoring illnesses such as breast or cervical cancer.

In May 2021, a New York Times article was titled Is 'Femtech' the Next Big Thing in Health Care?. In fact, the FemTech Analytics report already counted 1,550 femtech companies worldwide last year: 51.9% are located in North America, 23.5% in Europe, 13.9% in Asia, 4.7% in Australia, 4.4% in South America and 1.6% in Africa.

However, FemTech Analytics predicts that the Asia-Pacific will be the world’s fastest-growing region in the development of women's health apps by 2026. In Southeast Asia, topics such as abortion, birth control and even period have always been taboo. "There are several reasons why women's health issues are not properly addressed in this region of the world. However, the first is undoubtedly the lack of sex education, which prevents women from knowing and seeking better care of their bodies," Yan Li explained in an interview to TechWire Asia. To this day, it is a common practice for local women to stay hidden during their menstrual cycle. For example, in some communities in Laos, Nepal or Indonesia, menstruation is considered impure or dirty; this makes it difficult for women to go to school or carry out daily chores, and virtually impossible to receive proper assistance when in need. 

But we must make a virtue out of necessity. To date, according to the latest Femtech Analytics report, there are 24 femtech companies in Singapore, 6 in Thailand, 3 in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines and 2 in Malaysia. Sehati, founded by Indonesian Anda Waluyo, is based on the IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) and aims at providing fetal monitoring and access to specialist consultations for expectant mothers through the app; EloCare, founded in Singapore by Mabel Yen Ngoc Nguyen, monitors and collects data related to menopausal symptoms via wearable devices; ZaZaZu, also founded in Singapore by Jingjin Liu, is a platform that offers education, products and digital services related to female sexuality.

Femtech is a flourishing sector and Asian women are very enthusiastic about the birth of FemTech Asia, "a job search platform founded by young women who wish to develop their careers in Asian technology markets."

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