Femtech apps are popular with young women in Africa but the solutions they provide exclude some of those who need them the most.

Twenty-year-old *Salamatu has a small jotter in her bedroom where she keeps track of her menstrual cycle. While she has a period tracking app installed on her phone, she doesn’t always have data to access it. Her monthly data budget is ₦2,000 ($2) and she spends the bulk of it on WhatsApp bundles to keep up with her school department’s group chat. *Salamatu is sexually active, and it is very important that the manual calculation she does is correct as it’s typically the only form of contraception that she uses. 

Since the 2010s, multiple femtech apps and platforms have launched, helping millions of women across the world learn about their sexual and reproductive health. Sadly, it excludes some of those who need it the most. For women outside the western world, especially in rural communities who aren’t literate and cannot afford internet subscriptions, the solutions that femtechs like Flo provide are out of reach. This demands investment into more inclusive solutions that are tailored to marginalised women.

African femtechs are providing solutions for their communities

G4G, which was founded by a group of health education students, is a small, online sexual health community that is working to reach women through WhatsApp and SMS for those without internet access. One of the conveners, Hafsat Usman, shared that they have WhatsApp groups and an SMS list where they share information about sexual health with young women like *Salamatu including how to properly track your menstrual cycles and how to properly use different forms of contraception, among other things. The rate of unintended pregnancies in sub-Saharan Africa is the highest in the world, with one of the leading causes being a lack of adequate knowledge about contraceptives.

“For a lot of these women, we’re the only place they get sexual health information from. They’re not digitally literate enough to search for answers online and can’t afford to pay for [medical] consultations. We have a lot of women reaching out to ask questions or for help regarding certain situations either on WhatsApp or via SMS, and we do our best to respond or connect them with other health professionals in some cases,” Usman shared. 

Beyond providing information, the G4G group leverages their online community to raise money for young women who can’t afford sanitary products, contraception, or treatment for sexual and reproductive health issues.

In many African countries, teaching young girls about their sexual and reproductive health is considered taboo, making the accessibility of female-centred health tech solutions critical. The information that it provides empowers women to make decisions about their health and bodies, something that has been historically denied them. 

According to Usman, they sometimes converse with women in local Nigerian languages and via audio to ensure that they reach the women in ways and languages they most understand. 

“Sometimes, even when they have apps like Flo, they can’t read clearly or fully understand because it’s too complicated. We break it down for them in the vocabulary they comprehend better because we always understand things better when we use our language,” she said.

Anosele Kotu is the founder of Femconnect, a South African femtech company that provides online information about sexual and reproductive health to young girls. According to Kotu, one of the reasons why she started Femconnect was because she felt like the services the American or European apps provided were limited and not targeted at her as a woman living in South Africa.

“Sometimes they used terminologies that I didn’t even understand or could relate to, and while it sounds inconsequential, it makes a great deal of a difference in how young girls approach learning about sexual health. Information about your body and how it works becomes something you just scan through and hope to remember, rather than something you’re interested in or fascinated with, just because it sounds too complex and not relatable,” she shared.

Beyond simplifying information, femtechs need to be tailored towards providing solutions to the most pressing need of its target demographic and Femconnect does that. There are about seven million girls in South Africa who miss school every month due to period poverty. Femconnect collects data on girls who need help with sanitary products and matches them with donors: people who are willing to pay for their sanitary product needs long-term.

The challenge of building an African femtech

If healthtech founders experience difficulties with accessing funding, African femtech founders have it even worse. According to Kemi Olawoye, the founder of Nigerian femtech Babymigo, very few investors are interested in putting their money into femtech because it’s a niche market. 

“Investors want to know how you’ll bring in bigger numbers for them and so they favour larger markets. As an African femtech founder, this really affects what you can do and how many women you can reach, which can be disheartening because women really need these solutions and the femtech market does have the potential to generate profit in the long-term,” she shared.

The global femtech space is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2027 and Africa has the potential to contribute immensely to that if local founders are supported and funded. Not only will investment into the African femtech space yield profit for investors, but it will also improve the conditions for more sustainable growth and innovation on the continent. Women make up over 50% of the population and improving health outcomes for them means improved outcomes for the rest of society.

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Have you got your tickets to TechCabal’s Moonshot Conference? Click here to do so now!

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox