Normalising conversation about Arab women’s sexual health led to threats and challenges, Motherbeing co-founder says – Middle East Monitor
For decades, women in Egyptian society and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have suffered considerable shame when discussing women’s health and personal care.
Motherbeing co-founders, Nour Emam and Yousef ElSammaa, are working to change this for both the younger and older generations.
“The main issue with the region as a whole is that reproductive and sexual health is regarded as something shameful and taboo and then no one ends up talking about it, no matter how necessary,” Nour says.
“Adequate knowledge on the female body and health is absolutely missing in the public schooling system in Egypt in particular, because there’s no surveillance over whether or not these subjects are being taught properly,” explains Nour.
“Reproductive health and understanding the human body are part of every school’s curriculum but what we’ve been told by people is that teachers actually skip that class and that inherently comes from the shame that the teacher holds around these types of topics. It’s the main issue with the region, that reproductive and sexual health is regarded as something shameful, something taboo and something we don’t talk about.”
Often this taboo extends to the home, she adds. “Girls sometimes grow up with parents who shame them for asking questions about their bodies or refrain from having an open dialogue about periods or keep it very minimal with their mothers who most likely also don’t have enough information and risk sharing misinformation. It’s dangerous.”
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Nour understands this best. During the birth of her daughter, she underwent a caesarian section after which she was immediately separated from her daughter for a long period as her newborn was treated for jaundice.
It was a traumatising experience that left her and her husband helpless and confused. As a result, Nour suffered from postpartum depression and mild PTSD, which went undiagnosed for seven months.
“My daughter was taken away from us because of jaundice, but the way things were handled was not right. My husband and I felt very inferior and weak to the hospital system and to the doctors, and it was not having the information that we needed at the time that really set off the entire postpartum period,” Nour explains.
To navigate her healing journey, Nour successfully launched her Femtech company Motherbeing in January 2020, after training to become a Maternal Support practitioner, also known as a doula.
“I put all my savings into the course which was based in Canada. I used to stay awake till three in the morning to take the courses with a seven-month-old, so it was quite a journey. Once I was done with my training, I realised there were some doulas in Egypt but none of them was very active online, so women in need of their support wouldn’t be able to find them,” says Nour.
Having identified that there was no space for soon-to-be mothers to connect, communicate and be heard by experts, she set off to create exactly that. Motherbeing – a FemTech company – allows women to explore and learn about their bodies, cycles and their reproductive health.
Femtech refers to a collection of health software and tech-enabled products that address women’s health issues. This ranges from innovative apps that assist in analysing symptoms of menopause, devices that improve breastfeeding, and personalised tests to interpret fertility levels.
The MENA is the fourth largest market globally for FemTech, with its seven per cent share of the total number of FemTech companies. According to Emergen Research, a syndicated research and consulting firm, the global market for female-targeted technology is projected to reach $60 billion in 2027, more than tripling from $18.75 billion in 2019.
Motherbeing, Nour explains, is a patient-centric platform focused on providing women with information on their bodies, sexual health and the many misconceptions surrounding it.
After conducting clinical practices with OBGYNs and attending birth appointments during which she would observe hospital systems from the patient’s perspective, Nour noted the many advancements hospitals have yet to improve and enhance women’s healthcare experiences.
“I saw that there’s so much that can be done to improve women’s healthcare in Egypt and the region as a whole, and that care providers should be looking at the overall picture and diagnosing accordingly because women’s health is not a specific system or disease in a vacuum.”
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In addition to easily accessible digital content, Motherbeing opened its first women’s health clinic this month in Maadi, one of Cairo’s most luxurious neighbourhoods. There, women can schedule appointments with a gynaecologist and sexual health educator.
The clinic, explains Nour, aims to become a significant part of women’s health journey, not just a place for check-ups.
“Motherbeing was born to first and foremost, raise awareness about pregnancy and fertility treatments and sell my services as a doula. But then we quickly noticed that a lot of people who were interacting with Motherbeing were younger women, not women who are expecting. And they had all these questions related to reproductive health, period health, menstrual hygiene, personal hygiene, so we realised that Motherbeing couldn’t just fixate on one particular part, because the gap in the region is so large,” notes Nour.
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Customers from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also enrolled in Motherbeing’s online courses on topics such as ‘Periods, Mastering your cycle’ and ‘The birth crash course.’
“It’s really nice to see how a large part of our customers are based in those parts of the region, because that’s what the internet can do, there are no limitations to whom you can offer these classes to,” Nour says.
“It’s been a real eye-opening experience. I’ve had threats and challenges and even large smear campaigns but it’s what comes with being the first person to ever really talk about these topics openly on social media. It’s how I know I’m making a change that needs to happen.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.