As the proliferation of female health products & services continues to grow, we see that menstrual health is becoming an area of interest for everyone, everywhere.
Even for men. Yes, men. Why not?
- Some of the reasons are biological. The menstrual cycle helps prepare the human female body for pregnancy every month. It creates the monthly period when not pregnant, making it a natural and normal reproductive function.
- Some of the reasons are financial. The global menstrual product market is expected to exceed $36 billion USD by 2024. This has been driven by the increasing awareness of the ways that comprehensive menstrual health, including access to quality products, can help empower women.
- Some of the reasons are out of pure interest because menstrual health has been taboo for too long. Female health is finally becoming a central focus area of research, education, policy and innovation rather than a peripheral area.
This means market-based solutions are overdue. And they are finally here! The last 7 years have been WILDLY exciting with regards to newly-formed companies forming that offer organic tampons and pads, menstrual cups, period panties and so much more! Have you seen all the different innovations the MH Hub has been collecting in the MH Hub Innovation Hive?
To try and better understand the motivations for working in menstrual health innovation, we found some awesome men who shared with us why they chose to work on female health, the challenges they face, and what role they think men play in promoting female health generally.
We interviewed 7 men from 4 companies:
Alfred Muli, Regional Program Manager for East Africa, Ruby Cup
Ruby Cup is a healthier, more sustainable, cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative to pads and tampons. Made from 100% soft, medical grade silicone, our menstrual cup is safe, comfortable and hygienic. Quite simply, Ruby Cup makes a world of difference. It will transform how you manage your period and help promote menstrual health in developing countries.
Andy Miller, Director of R&D
The FLEX Company is on a mission to create body-positive, life-changing experiences through the products they make and the conversations they spark. Their vision is to reimagine and deliver life-changing period products everywhere. They currently make the Flex Menstrual Disc and the Flex Cup.
Adam Brooker, Financial Entrepreneur
Kanishka Fernando, Tech Entrepreneur
Janith Dushyantha, Tech Entrepreneur
MAS Holdings is one of Sri Lanka’s largest apparel tech companies. MAS is noted for its emphasis on ethical & sustainable work environments. MAS is the manufacturer of US-based THINX period panties & is the creator of UK-based Become menopause clothing.
Thang Vo-Ta, CEO & Co-founder
Ciaran Grealish, Strategy & Operations Lead
Callaly is a British femcare BCorp that has invented a completely new period product called the Tampliner, which recently won an innovation award.
Here’s what they had to say.
Adam, MAS: There’s a lot of opportunity for new thinking within the space as so many consumer needs remain unmet or undermet.
Alfred, Ruby Cup: In 2013, I was looking for data to include in a grant proposal on sanitation promotion that required us to integrate Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). It didn’t make sense to me at the time, but after reviewing different studies and a lot of grey literature, I realized how menstruation was a barrier to education, health and overall wellbeing. It wasn’t until a few months later that I started working with WASH United that I really began to understand the gravity of the situation. Through training in diverse contexts such as Nairobi’s informal settlements, communities around the Maasai Mara, rural Uganda and beautiful Kigali among others, I documented stories from women and girls whose lives temporarily stop when menstruating. What was even more sad was how most of them didn’t understand their own bodies and the only information they had was to a large extent incorrect.
Janith, MAS: When I first got into it [female health innovation], it was completely unknown / underserved / unheard of, at the time and there were so many things we could do to make someone’s life better, even with the current competencies we have. The task was to focus more on the problems, and there are multitude of problems to solve.
Andy, Flex: Menstrual health is a meaningful space to work in because there is so much need and the solutions occupy a very intimate and empowering space in people’s lives. What is important to me is to do work with a strong sense of purpose while also being mindful that the contributions you make fit into a broader context of empowerment and elevation, which, at its best, is an intersectional conversation with many voices and many backgrounds, genders, and perspectives (i.e. inclusive design). As a product-oriented person with an engineering and industrial design background, I have had a deep respect and admiration for menstrual cups going back ten years when I first saw one. They seemed to me an elegant solution. (I believe simplicity and elegance are highly correlated with truth.)
Kanishka, MAS: I was always excited about the biology of human beings and during my masters I did a research project on gynecological cancers. This gave me a deeper understanding on the pathophysiology of the female reproductive cycle. Here I developed a keen interest to further explore female health and to develop solutions.
Ciaran, Callaly: Callaly is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to bring genuine product innovation to the femcare market at global scale. Equally we have a responsibility to help make it easier for women to talk about periods and provide information that supports decisions about their health.
Thang, Callaly: I realised people had been looking for a new, better period product to deal with various problems, including leakage. I was excited by the prospect of building a purposeful and meaningful company around such an exciting product.
Andy, Flex: I don’t think there are too many challenges specific to being a man in the menstrual health space. If anything, we are still occupying a privileged position and have to work to stay mindful of that relationship. One specific challenge I face as a designer is not being able to try products myself. But I think this is an advantage in disguise. I have to listen in order to get any feedback at all. And in that process, I learn a lot more than if I could design and test on / with myself.
Janith, MAS: Agreed, the biggest challenge would be connecting with the end consumer. Most of the female consumers would share more freely with a female than a male. However, there is a chance some of the feedback / facial cues / inspirations / ideas could get lost in translation.
Alfred, Ruby Cup: The sustainable disposal of menstrual products, particularly disposable sanitary pads. The few available technologies are either expensive or unsafe. Luckily innovations such as menstrual cups, reusable sanitary pads and period panties are gaining popularity to help confront this challenge.
Thang, Callaly: Most women simply don’t try new femcare products regularly, and neither do they tend to discuss those choices with friends, colleagues and family as they might with other products. The taboo around periods is lessening with the help of more openness in the press and on social media, but it can still take years for the intention of trying something new to turn into action. In other words, selling a product that people don’t generally like talking about is no easy task!
Adam, MAS: The cost of acquiring customers is very high, for example, in the menopause industry.
Kanishka, MAS: One of the challenges is developing solutions that are both innovative and also affordable.
Ciaran, Callaly: The biggest challenge we face is reaching massive scale with limited resources. We want to scale fast while making sure we have the underlying infrastructure to support sustainable growth and, ultimately, profit.
Alfred, Ruby Cup: It’s very simple: We must challenge the status quo; the patriarchy. I found it more useful to actually unlearn some of my beliefs reinforced through socialization as I was growing up. It took me a lot of reading and questioning things to unlearn harmful beliefs. It doesn’t happen overnight. You can start with baby steps like questioning gender roles and stereotypes and spreading the good vibes to people around you. I realized that men want to be involved but often times, they just don’t have the correct information.
Ciaran, Callaly: Men have an equally important role to play in promoting women’s health and equal opportunity. Like Alfred said, we need to be informed on important issues, understand different perspectives across socio-economic-political boundaries, and be able to speak about them with confidence. That will support our wider networks of family, friends and colleagues to also speak with confidence, raise their awareness, talk openly about issues and collectively present solutions.
Janith, MAS: Everyone needs to work towards awareness and understanding. I don’t believe it needs to be distinguished as men and women. If everyone could empathize the broader elements and a support system is created through acknowledgement, there will not be a problem to solve. And as people we need to work towards that.
Kanishka, MAS: Men affect women’s reproductive health as partners and fathers. Accordingly, it is important that men are knowledgeable on women’s health and reproductive cycle and have a good understanding on how these processes affect their day to day lives. Having a better understanding about common health events such as menstruation, pregnancy, menopause etc. can help remove the stigma around these subjects.
Adam, MAS: Men can help in supporting and advancing the conversation, though it should naturally be led by women who truly understand the pain points and needs of the area. I am a massive feminist myself, and strive to create a business and workplace and area that supports equality across all areas.
Thang, Callaly: I have two daughters and I want to raise them to believe that nothing is impossible and that they should pursue their dreams with reckless abandon. It’s the duty of every man to help fight for gender equality; it’s simply an issue of humanity.
Andy, Flex: Equal responsibility. Period. What is key though is how we promote women’s health and gender equality. I think the how is still being explored and defined. My current thoughts on how are influenced by Ursula K Le Guin, who believed “Intellectual tradition is male. Public speaking is done in the public tongue, the national or tribal language; and the language of our tribe is the men’s language.” Thus, to promote gender equality as a man requires looking at our verbs. When we think we should speak, promote or establish, I think we should pause and take a moment to rather listen, support, uplift, champion, reference, and reiterate.
Let’s put our hands together for a big round of applause to Alfred Andy, Adam, Kanishka, Janith, Thang and Ciaran for sharing their views and truly helping put the ‘men’ in menstrual health!
Please help open up the conversation and share this article on your social media using hashtags #HeForShe, #MenInFemtech #MenstruationMatters tagging @MenstrualHealthHub or @MHHub_Global
Contributions made by Milena Bacalja Perianes