Irregular menstrual cycles spurred on by stress. Tips to ease morning sickness queasiness. Complications from syphilis during pregnancy. Breast Cancer pink ribbons. Fiery-flip-on-a-dime mood swings. Breast self-exams. Which reusable menstrual cups are highly ranked—and how do you insert the darn thing?
Which topics do you identify as women’s health? Some, all of the above? Did any of them make you cringe? Be honest. Now imagine you are a male investor. Which issues would you “touch?”
How about these: The uniquely different symptoms that heart disease presents in a woman vs. a man? Personalized prenatal care, specific to the patient’s needs. Or when is it time to transition Grandma to assisted living? The percentage of female (vs. male) scientists publishing in journals before age 50. The gender disparity in medical clinical testing. How to treat Little Johnny’s bouncy-house related injury.
Still women’s health? Absolutely. Got questions? Read on.
A new definition is key to increase visibility and drive urgency
Women’s health has long been minimized as “bikini medicine,” a wildly lacking term referring to any part of a woman’s body that is covered by a bikini. Suffice to say, this definition is not cutting it for us—it’s time to burn that bikini, to debunk and rebuild it.
The new definition of women’s health must be holistic and affirm that OB/GYN and reproductive health are just a small part of the whole. Venture capitalist Anula Jayasuriya states that the definition should “include both women as the users or end recipients of the care—what they want and need, and how they are different—as well as when women are caretakers, caregivers, and decision-makers on behalf of others.”
In the same interview, Jayasuriya goes on to visualize her thinking about women’s health as three concentric circles and their intersections:
- Smallest circle in the center is OB/GYN and reproductive health.
- Second circle includes common chronic diseases where women differ from men in terms of their symptoms, response to treatment, and outcomes.
- Largest circle are where women make decisions on behalf of both the elderly that they care for and on behalf of children.
This sketch of a definition gives us a jumping-off point to start to think about the range, impact and reach of women’s health as it relates to us here in the United States. Yet there are even bigger implications at stake on a global scale.
Women’s health drives the development & economic performance of nations?
According to this peer-reviewed 2016 research article, Women’s health is intrinsically tied to economic development, and that globally, Women’s health falls short of its potential.
The research scientists’ findings are clearly laid out: Healthier women and their children contribute to more productive and better-educated societies. Women’s control over their own fertility can boost the pace of economic growth and development and that opportunities for deliberate family planning and that healthy mothers before, during, and after childbirth, and the health and productivity of subsequent generations can catalyze a cycle of positive societal development.
Here’s what gets our knickers in a twist: This study confirms that women’s health is tied to long-term productivity; that the development and economic performance of nations depends, in part, upon how each country protects and promotes the health of women. Then why is the women’s-health movement so severely underfunded?
People invest in ideas that they feel comfortable with
Fact: Men represent 90 percent of investing partners at the top 100 VC firms.
Albert Wenger, a partner at Union Square Ventures in New York, says that people invest in ideas that they feel comfortable with, and that’s why women are leading the charge on female health. He admits that there is a gendered bias that results from the fact that a lot of investors are male. Anula Jayasuriya similarly argues that investors have to identify with the problem in order to be compelled to make a financial investment. She goes on to state in this interview: “It’s about a connection that is made, both the investment team’s resonance with the problem and how compelling a potential investor thinks a problem is. I think there is an unconscious bias against women that goes on in the process, and that is enhanced if there are no women present.”
Entrepreneur Ida Tin, whose company Clue helps women track their menstrual and fertility cycles, gives us additional insight from the flip side of fundraising a women’s ehealth startup: “One thing is understanding something intellectually, another thing is having that experience which is anchored in your body emotionally, sometimes people would say, ‘You know it’s really interesting but I can’t use the product myself. I only invest in products that I can use myself.’ And that’s of course the problem if all are male investors.”
Re-stack the cards for women’s health to spearhead change
If women are responsible for 80 percent of their families’ health care decisions and the economic livelihoods of nations depend on the health of women—what can we do to help highlight the sub-par state of women’s health? More female investors, of course. But the momentum needs to ignite first in our community—our network of informed medical professionals, community leaders, entrepreneurs and women’s health advocates. We believe that now is the time to foster a dynamic dialogue to encourage knowledge-sharing and increase visibility of these real issues to spearhead change.
The truth is, the act of discussing women’s health and women’s bodies is complicated and sometimes uncomfortable—but if we can’t engage in an honest and open discussion about the the concerns we have over the fact that only 37 percent of clinical-study participants are female, or the efficiencies of utilizing healthtech to optimize pumping breast milk, or the convenience and cost-saving measures of menstrual cups over tampons, then where do we stand in this movement?