I didn’t begrudge many of my fellow Berliners being wilfully oblivious of the reason for the holiday, but it would have been good to feel a greater awareness of the UN’s theme for this year: “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” For me, that means how can we advance gender equality via technology when we live in a world where I can be guided across the planet with just a few taps on the phone in my pocket and yet we still struggle to understand what is going on with our bodies.
Consider instead technologies that empower an intimate, personal liberation of the self. Technology can change how women feel and see themselves in the world. It can enable women to listen to their bodies and begin to understand what they are experiencing and why. If we could achieve something that simple, the world would look very different.
From birth control to period tracking, fertility solutions to general wellness, femtech could provide the technological liberation that the political one hasn’t been able to deliver. This nascent industry is neither sterile nor distant. Tracking and collecting data about what is going on in our bodies is a way to learn its language. We would have stronger voices if they were aligned with our bodies and we were not left to respond to what the world tells us or tacitly expects of us.
I think that this simple honesty would unleash an enormous amount of power. We wouldn’t lose so much energy in ignoring our needs, covering up our wounds and pains, pretending our biology doesn’t matter, enduring a systemic lack of care and fearing for our very wellbeing and health.
From the subtle and not so subtle messages of our body’s sensations, of emotional fluctuations and differences in preferences of social interactions, of food and sleep, days with higher sex drives and others feeling reactive and grumpy, women’s bodies are constantly telling us about how we are changing, from day to day, as we venture through our menstrual cycles, which are governed by sex hormones that affect almost everything in our system. Then there are the changes that happen over the years: where we are suddenly propelled by the onset of menstruation, of pregnancy, of childbirth, of menopause.
Our wombs are information centres, sending out updates on birth control side-effects, on infections, cramps, C-section scars, STDs, ovulation and miscarriages. Elsewhere, our bodies tell us about itches and desires and orgasms and lack of them – of longing for being deeply touched and understood and seen and loved. All of this we are taught to keep to ourselves like a dirty secret.
It is nothing less than astonishing that this part of women’s lives should be such an unknown or unspoken thing, not only to men, but those who experience it. This part of our biology is so central to our lives and yet we seem to know so little about it, from the basics, such as “When do my breasts hurt?” and “When will my next period start?” to “Is my cycle what would be considered normal?” And then, “Do I really need to see a doctor?” or “Will it be easy for me to become pregnant and stay pregnant?”
For too long, technology has sorely lacked women’s voices. But a powerful technological change is happening, led by big data and of all that it is capable. With more data comes more insight and with more knowledge comes more space to act. With more sociocultural acceptance comes more flexibility to live the lives we want.
•Ida Tin is the co-founder of women’s health app, Clue