Femtech takes off in Japan, but plenty of room for further growth

Since “femtech” became a buzzword in Japan a few years ago, products and services designed for women’s health have been introduced one after another – a phenomenon previously unthinkable in a society that once stigmatized such issues.

Period panties where the amount of menstrual blood flow can be tracked daily by an app, birth control pill subscription services that can be delivered to your home, or disposable menstrual cups are some innovative femtech products that are drawing attention to women’s lives to make it more comfortable.

But the burgeoning femtech industry, a portmanteau derived from the words “female” and “technology,” has room for more growth as consumers, businesses, and government work together to provide solutions to the myriad health and medical problems that only Affect women, analysts say.

While the United States, Britain, and European countries were about a decade ahead in adopting femtech services, “Japan is unique in that the industry is expanding with government involvement,” said Hiroko Nakamura, who co-founded Fermata Inc. in 2019. , a company providing consulting and an online shopping platform for femtech goods and services.

Nakamura, 38, while applauding the government’s support for allegedly promoting women’s empowerment in the workplace, believes more can be done.

“We hope that the government will design new frameworks to open the door to femtech products, which sometimes cannot reach the market because they belong to a completely new category of existing products,” she said.

For example, it took some time for the government to promote menstrual panties made from absorbent materials for periods as a product, even though the underlying technology was already verified. They were finally recognized in 2021 under an ordinance of the Medicines Act.

Nakamura said that to support the healthy growth of the femtech market, products and services should be made freely available once their safety and effectiveness are scientifically proven.

“I am not asking the government to relax regulations. It must continue to ensure consumer protection through its tough Drug Matters Act. But balance is important,” she said.

Partly thanks to lobbying by a parliamentary group led by veteran ruling Liberal Democratic Party member Seiko Noda, the government has included promoting femtech in its annual economic policy plan, which has served as a guide for preparing the state budget since 2021.

“The LDP appears to be a conservative, male-centric party, but male members in their 30s and 40s initiated the faction to promote femtech. They said they wanted to make life easier for their partners or daughters,” Noda said at an exhibition event in late October in Tokyo that brought together around 200 femtech exhibitors and attracted over 14,000 visitors over three days.

“I find it exciting to work for the femtech industry because it represents a new frontier and there are no existing players and regulations hindering its development,” said Noda, 62.

She hopes that the development of the femtech industry will help women “discover and solve problems related to their bodies early in life,” recalling that she herself missed the opportunity to have a child in her prime give birth while pursuing a career in lawmaking.

After undergoing fertility treatments for around a decade, she gave birth to a child at age 50 via artificial insemination using donated eggs. “I don’t want young women to regret not knowing their bodies,” she said.

Since fiscal 2021, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has launched subsidy programs for facilities related to the development of femtech goods and services, with a budget ranging from around 150 million yen ($1 million) to 160 million yen per year.

The program has so far decided to give financial support to 39 projects of up to 5 million yen each. Participants say the department’s recognition is essential to promote their health and medicine-related products and services.

The government’s push for femtech also aims to empower women in society, which it hopes will also stimulate Japan’s economy by encouraging women to work longer hours.

Ministry data released in 2019 estimated that the annual economic burden on Japan’s female population due to the severity of menstrual cramps and the resulting need to visit hospitals and buy medicines reached 682.8 billion yen this year, mainly due to a productivity loss of 491.1 billion yen.

Data from 2018 showed that the proportion of women who quit work due to difficulties in continuing to work while undergoing fertility treatment was 22.7 percent.

Femtech covers not only fertility and menstrual issues, but an ever-growing spectrum of women’s health issues, including pregnancy, childbirth care and menopause, as well as issues that can arise regardless of age, such as sexual well-being, gynecological conditions such as breast cancer, endometrial cancer and cervical cancer.

The ministry estimates that the annual economic impact of using femtech products and services will reach around 2 trillion yen in 2025, based on the assumption that this technology will encourage women to continue working and earn salaries.

With women’s health and medical goods and services thriving, the femtech domestic market was valued at about 64.30 billion yen in 2021, up from about 59.71 billion yen in 2020, and is expected to grow to about 70.11, according to Yano Research Billions of yen grow institute.

Fermata’s Nakamura says, “You might think there are a lot of femtech services and items out there now, but I see it as just the tip of the iceberg. It is important that health problems that are unique to women and are still unspoken are put into words. Government and companies can offer solutions.”

© KYODO

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