The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.
IWD 2023 is activating action in health, tech work and sustainability to help forge a gender equal world. And sadly it seems we still have so much work to do. The IWDA (International Women’s Development Agency) share some hard truths
- 47,000 women and girls were killed by their male partners or family members in 2020 – and those are only the deaths we know about
- 7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men
- 3% is the size of Australia’s gender pay gap
- 45 countries do not have specific laws against domestic violence
- 30% of women globally have experienced sexual or physical violence in their lifetime
“Celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality is key”
Celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality is key. And this year on the 8th March this annual event recognises and celebrates the women and girls who are championing advancements in transformative technology.
A timely premise considering the inequity that was highlighted at this year’s Global Wellness Summit hosted in Tel-Aviv which focused on the opportunities finally being harnessed within the innovation space focusing on women’s health-tech and digital start-ups.
Aradhana Khowala is the CEO & Founder of Aptimind Partners, a consultancy focused on regenerative tourism. She is a strategy expert in travel, hospitality, diversity and inclusion along with women’s health. She is speaking truth, busting taboos and advocating in the Femtech space and all the while showcasing the billions of dollars to be made in the process.
It was a truly dynamic presentation focusing on periods, menopause and vaginas, and the unease in including these topics in mainstream discussions, research, government funding and technology. And as she explains this gender disparity in health and wellness is deadly.
If you think the gender gap in healthcare is no big deal, please think again. The numbers are frightening. Only 1% of overall global pharma research is dedicated to solving issues for women despite women being 51% of the population. Merely 4% is spent on global research for women’s health and wellness issues, and accounts for a meagre 2.5% of all public funding.
“Merely 4% of funding is spent on global research for women’s health and wellness issues”
This was not so much a presentation, more an intervention. Aradhana accuses the medical profession of gas lighting women; which is exactly what happens when doctors dismiss concerns, don’t take pain or discomfort seriously and underplay symptoms from presenting females. Data points show that women are less likely than men to be given treatment, have their pain taken seriously or even be afforded a diagnosis.
And to back up her point she presented us with some sobering statistics. On average, women get diagnosed later than men in over 700 diseases (4.5 years later for cancer and 2.5 years later for diabetes). Her research also shows that:
- 45% of women suffer from specific chronic conditions that can be prevented
- 9 out of 10 women suffer from period pain yet no localised treatment exists
- 73% of women don’t treat their menopause symptoms
- And 20 – 30% of women stop taking the pill because of concerns around side effects that are not being addressed. Incidentally, the pill hasn’t been improved upon since the sexual revolution in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Staggering still, women were only allowed to participate in pharmaceutical clinical trials as recently as 1993. Think about that. In effect all over-the-counter medicine we’ve been taking has not been designed for or tested on the physiology of women. For decades it’s been assumed that what worked on men also worked on female physiology. Male bodies continue to be the default in clinical trials today, even the standard lab rat is a male!
‘Male bodies continue to be the default in clinical trials today”
Despite all of the gender disparity experienced by women today, Aradhana feels the gender gap in health care is the most dangerous of all. There is a 50% probability that women will get misdiagnosed in the event of a cardiovascular event like a heart attack and 47% of women are more like to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because cars continue to be designed for men. Her personal favourite? Addyi-Viagra which is created for women yet continues to be tested on males.
This is a loud call for investors to bust taboos around what she believes to be a billion dollar business opportunity. The lack of funding is shocking and investors are still mainly men. The prospect of female start-ups presents a tremendous opportunity which have till now historically been ignored. Femtech start-ups are becoming unicorns. In just 2021, Femtech entrepreneurs raised $2.5b. In 2020 the Femtech market size was $40b which is set to grow.
“There is a 50% probability that women will get misdiagnosed in the event of cardiovascular event.”
Sharon Handelman also advocates for the renewed focus on women’s health. She is Healthcare and Ageing Business Development Manager for Sompo Digital Lab Tel Aviv, an insurance industry innovator collaborating with start-ups, research institutions and government organisations to create technology solutions for wellness. “Women are being ignored biologically, yet we are responsible for 80% of the families health decision. If we keep women healthier, we keep societies healthier and thereby the economy.”
“Women are being ignored biologically, yet are responsible for 80% of the families health decision. If we keep women healthier, we keep societies healthier and thereby the economy.”
She shows how 500 million women are suffering globally by lack of female health care products and this does not just apply to third world countries. In the US, 17 million women lack access to hygiene product which accounts for 60 days of missed work or school per year.
The Femtech industry is young. The name was coined as recently as 2016 by a company called Clue. The Femtech industry will be worth at least $100b by 2030. One of the areas gaining momentum is around menopause. The cost of menopause to our society is huge. One in four women consider leaving work because of the impact of symptoms, one in eight can’t function at work. Sharon says, “change demands we change the conversation around education, government priority, funding and of societal taboos and make these health challenges mainstream.” There is much work to do!
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organisation specific.