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Surveilled Wombs: Problems With Period-Tracking Apps

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Conversations around menstruation are still very much a taboo in India. Even today, many menstruators are not comfortable talking about it openly. In such times, obtaining reliable information about menstruation and appropriate guidance about one’s cycle can be extremely difficult.

Additionally, keeping track of one’s period often becomes another burden menstruating individuals have to bear with their already hectic lifestyles. But it also becomes vital for many individuals as it can help them plan their schedules, help with issues such as PCOS and quickly identify a possible pregnancy.

As a remedy to this, the ‘femtech’ industry created a concept which seemingly is a boon for many menstruators in ‘period-tracking apps’. These, easy-to-install, often free and user-friendly apps which are readily available on most smartphones claim to help menstruators by keeping track of their menstrual cycles.

They inform them of delays and possible pregnancies, and by providing additional information to help them better understand their physiology. But these seemingly ‘great’ apps have many issues associated with them.

Exclusive Nature

India had 502.2 million smartphone users as of December 2019, which means more than 50% of Indians do not have the very device these apps rely on. Additionally, the smartphone using population of India is skewed with men dominating the segment.

It is no doubt that one needs to overcome many socio-economic obstacles to access this innovation due to the particular audience it aims to target.


Most of these apps do not have any scientific data or medical professionals involved in their working process – the ones who do usually work on a monetary subscription model.

Furthermore, a pertinent population of menstruators experience irregular cycles – cycles which do not follow the 28-day gap (on an average). These apps use your historic data to tell you when you can experience your next period – and as reliable as they might seem, these calculations are just predictions.

As per most gynaecologists, predicting ovulation for a menstruating individual solely based on numbers is virtually impossible. Such unreliable predictions not only create ambiguity in one’s daily life but also put individuals on the risk of unwanted pregnancies despite ‘planning’. The inaccuracy of these apps is disturbing as many menstruators rely entirely on these apps for their sexual and reproductive health.

Furthermore, most of these apps follow the ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept. They often do not account for the changes in a menstruator’s cycle due to pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopause – individuals who went through abortions almost every time had to reset the app completely to avoid future errors.

The Personal Becomes Professional

Like many other apps, even period-tracking apps have raised several privacy concerns for their users. These apps often record highly personal information including details of one’s menstrual cycle, details about their vaginal discharge, details about miscarriage and abortions, how often they were indulging in intercourse (protected and unprotected) and even the position in which they had sex.

The real problem comes up when these apps share such private data with third parties. In many surveys, there have been instances which suggest that these apps were sharing data with marketers to give them a better idea of when to market their products – based on the assumption that most menstruators will buy many products during their cycle.

There has also been evidence that suggests how some corporate firms were monitoring their menstruating employees to keep a check of who was trying to get pregnant. Such instances also substantiate workplace discrimination (majorly in promotions) and prejudices (by clearly exposing one’s sex life).

By doing so, they essentially bring something very personal about an individual into their professional sphere hence, reducing them from a meritorious professional to simply a bleeding uterus.

The Personal Becomes Social

In an article titled “Period tracking-apps are not for women”, Kaitlyn Tiffany gives references to an app called ‘iAmAMan’ which allows men to keep track of the menstrual cycle of their girlfriends at once; with a unique password for every partner. This app intended to let users know when they can expect their partners to act ‘hysterical’.

Another app called ‘PeriodMe’ let users know when their roommates were going to menstruate, thus, warning them of possible PMS. Both these apps not only make something so personal social without one’s consent but also raise a serious question regarding how women-pro is the femtech industry.

As clearly, these apps fail to cater to and understand the sexual experiences of menstruators, but by having such mechanisms, they also contribute to gender insensitivity to a great extent. They play into the archetype of an irrational PMSing woman to be kept at a distance.

Misgendering Apps

Picture of period tracking apps from google play strore
Source: author

Talking about gender, these apps fail tremendously in this sphere. When you search the keyword ‘Period tracker’ on your Play Store, you get a long list of apps with pink and violet icons with animated flowers on them.

Most of these apps claim that they are meant for women, thus, disregarding menstruators who identify as male, non-binary or intersex individuals. Such mechanisms made users with alternative gender identities feel alienated by the very app they were relying on.

Even for women, they were very embarrassing to use as the iconic pink colour and flowers would give any other person an idea of the app they were using.

Additionally, these apps also disregard the possibility of unconventional relationships and often assume a menstruator’s partner to be a ‘man’. Therefore, not just ignoring the identity of the users but that of their partners as well.


Existence of such apps raises a highly valid point of how easy it is for the Period industry to seem gender-sensitive. In actuality, all they intend to do is exploit the anxiety, fear, and desires existing of their users.

It brings about the need for us to properly understand the socio-economic apparatus, which affect gender and sexuality. These capitalistic structures often change the personal into professional for profit. So it becomes crucial to be an informed individual so we can make informed decisions about our menstrual health.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

You must be to comment.
  1. Deepikka Sharmaa

    This one is an eye-opener.

    1. Ansh Sharma

      Thanks a ton!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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