Reflections Towards a Gender-Inclusive Period Tracking App

Anastasia Karagianni (Vrije Universiteit of Brussels)

I decided to write about the “Digital Period Tracking Apps: Is Your Period Tracking App as Discreet as Your Best Friend?” workshop that I attended on Wednesday 13 December 2023. In short, as participants we had to create a story about the issues our protagonist faces through using a period app and how they can be overcome. Of course, we were not limited in this worst-case scenario. We could also invent a positive-case scenario where everything works perfectly and as such the user is very satisfied by the services provided in the app. I had to come up with an aspiring influencer. Thus, the protagonist of my story was Doleraine, a 32-year old non-binary person (pronouns “they/them/their”), based in Brussels who is working in education. They love kids, but they are not ready to have a family yet. Doleraine is under gender-reassignment process.

As a person undertaking this process, they don’t feel that their needs are covered by the app. They looked for alternatives, but they didn’t find any app that could cover them. Doleraine also feels that a gender-inclusive language is not used, since they are still considered as “she”/female person in the app. However, they keep using the app, as they can easily track their period – which is so unstable since they started this process – as well as the symptoms in their mental health situation due to the influence of the hormones.

I was asked to reflect upon these challenges and provide with potential solutions. For the design of gender-inclusive apps, what is really required is the visibility of the non-binary, intersex, transgender and gender non-performing persons. Their needs should be taken into consideration. What changes in the app could signal this? More options oriented towards their needs should be provided in the app, or the use of a gender-inclusive language. More than that, I was wondering whether the design of a separate app, only for these groups of people, could be a solution…But of course not! They would feel that they are still the “Others”.

What is really clear to me is that these people have to share sensitive health data (as all health data is sensitive) and this disclosure is very traumatic and/or stigmatised for them. As such, a stronger data protection regime should be provided. The companies should provide accurate and detailed information in the Terms of Use section about how the data processing works and if it is shared with third parties.

We cannot imagine the future of the law if we do not ask these questions. If we don’t have these spaces to go through these exercises, we might not be able to envision a digital feminist future. Many thanks once again to Mark Burdon, Rachel Hews, Hayley Langsdorf and Kim Langsdorf for organising this amazing workshop!

I took the following image in the QUT campus. It looks like a digital vulva and it reminded me of this workshop.