These innovative designs

Topic: These innovative designs are tackling taboo health issues for women

A non-hormonal birth control capsule that women can insert just before sex. A rape kit that gives victims more agency and streamlines the evidence collection process. An overhauled design for a 150-year-old tool used in postpartum vaginal tearing.

These designs are just some of the finalists announced this week in the 2021 Index Award, and their creators hope to make the future of medicine and sexual health more equitable for all genders.

“There is still so much shame around female, trans and non-binary bodies that impose harmful barriers to healthcare,” said Liza Chong, CEO of the award’s Danish nonprofit organization, The Index Project. “A culture of silence persists around a number of important topics, ranging from women’s sexual pleasure to the long-term implications of childbirth, serving to sideline vital conversations and deny people access to helpful and even life-saving resources.”

Hosted since 2005, the biennial awards focuses more broadly on how design can solve crucial global issues — past winners include the language app Duolingo and the 3D-printed Mars habitat MARSHA — but with one category focused exclusively on design for the body, finalists and winners often tackle gendered issues in medicine that have long been ignored or are considered taboo.

Two years ago, for instance, the finalists included the AI-powered chatbot Raaji, which answers questions on menstruation, mental health and sex for girls and young women in developing countries. This year, two women doctors, Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram and Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga, have been recognized for their Pakistani telemedicine company Sehat Kahani, which uses an all-female network of doctors. According to the Index Award, the e-clinics provide accessible healthcare and attempt to combat the so-called “doctor bride” phenomenon, where many female medical students in the country forgo their careers, under pressure to prioritize motherhood.

Long overdue redesigns

This year’s finalists hope to make seismic changes in the world through a single thoughtfully designed product that, in some cases, update a long-neglected area of medicine. Take the Hegenberger Speculum, for instance, which claims to make it easier for midwives to stitch perineum tears that occur during birth — something 9 out of 10 women experience, according to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) — and is made out of silicone instead of metal for more comfort for the patient. The current speculum had not been updated in a century and a half, according to its creator, Malene Hegenberger.

“It’s quite a taboo subject,” Hegenberger told the Danish media outlet Avisen in 2018. “Women generally don’t want to be a bother and there’s a lot of other stuff to focus on after childbirth. They put themselves aside and put the child first. I think that’s why there hasn’t been much done about it.”

Topic Discussed: These innovative designs are tackling taboo health issues for women

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