By Pilar Lagos

When I first heard about wearable technology, I had an erroneous opinion about its usability. On one hand I thought that people in the first world were consuming wearables because of their novelty (not necessarily their functionality) and that wearable technology didn’t have a market in the developing world — they  were too impractical to implement anyway.

That all changed shortly after UNICEF, ARM, and frog design  launched the Wearables for Good Challenge in May 2015. Working in a place where I was ‘close to the fire’, I began to discover wearables that aim to transform children’s and women’s lives around the world. Take UNICEF’s MUAC tape, for example.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0135/Naftalin
© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0135/Naftalin

It’s a flexible measuring tape that is wrapped around the mid-upper arm (between the shoulder and elbow.) The colors red, yellow or green indicate the level of malnutrition. The MUAC  tape is lightweight, durable, cheap and easy to use. It does not require special equipment, references for interpretation, besides the colors, or highly trained health workers.

The more I read, the more I discovered that these weren’t fancy ideas from people who never left their desk at HQ, but rather the vast majority of ideas came from creative minds that were intimately familiar with the local cultures where they would have to be implemented.

Motivated by their potential social impact, and, well, because I was supporting the Wearables for Good challenge anyway, I began researching more how wearable and sensor technology can improve lives. As a woman, I find wearables that are specifically designed for my gender and ‘womanly issues’ particularly interesting. Not only did reading about them help me appreciate the gift of womanhood more, it also reminded me of the fact that the physicality of being a woman can be a blessing, as well as a challenge.

Therefore I compiled a top 4 list of wearables with applications specially designed for women in developed and developing nations. Each has the potential to improve women’s lives significantly. Since not all of these wearables adhere to the nine innovation principles that we work by at UNICEF Innovation Unit, you may not have heard of them through our channel, but I still think it’s valuable to share them with you.

#4 how to get pregnant:

A woman’s body’s basal temperature (the lowest body temperature reached during rest) is an important measurement to know when she’s trying to get pregnant, but tracking it can be a challenge because of body temperature variations that happen after ovulation. Vanessa Xi, CEO of Yono Labs thought of creating an in-ear wearable that women can wear in their sleep to track the basal temperature, which automatically measures its owner’s temperature up to 70 times per night, beams it over Bluetooth to the Yono app, which analyzes the data and recommends an optimal fertility window based on the data. You can read more about it here: http://www.yonolabs.com

#3 how to discretely manage your period:

For teenage girls living in extreme poverty around the globe, getting their periods can be a nightmare. Inaccessible or unaffordable sanitary items mean that many young women have to reuse menstrual pads over and over again, which could be unhygienic. Studies also show that some brands of disposable sanitary pads contain toxic materials.

Preconceived ideas against menstruation combined with the fear of not having access to clean pads has lead some girls in rural communities to refrain from going to school during their periods, and,sometimes, they even drop out of school.

A team of students from the Art Center College of Design created “Flo,” a multi-purpose device that allows women living in poverty to clean, dry and carry their reusable menstrual pads, making periods safer and less disruptive. “Flo” received a Gold Award at the International Design Excellence Awards (IDSA). You can read more about it here: http://blogs.artcenter.edu/dottedline/2015/08/26/well-good-artcenter-students-social-impact-innovations-2015-idea-award/

#2 how to avoid the build-up of stress:

A piece of “smart jewelry” called the Leaf, which can be worn as a brooch, necklace or bracelet, allows women to record their activity, sleep, stress, and reproductive cycle with the help of a mobile application. What makes this product different is that it’s introduced a way to help women track their stress levels by measuring their breathing movements. As women, we are more susceptible to stress because our hormonal levels fluctuate during puberty, pregnancy, menopause and our monthly menstrual cycle. You can read more about it here: https://www.bellabeat.com

#1 how to stay healthy while maintaining a tradition:

A health foundation has turned the bindi, the traditional red dot worn on a woman’s forehead, and a symbol of beauty in India, into an iodine patch that could save lives. In India, iodine deficiency is a problem for the country’s poorest, causing brain damage and lower IQ in children, complications during pregnancy for mothers, and contributing to diseases like breast cancer.

The Neelvasant Medical Foundation and Research Centre partnered with Grey for Good, the philanthropic branch of the agency Grey Group Singapore, to create the “Life Saving Dot.” Each dot delivers a daily dose of iodine, absorbed by the body, to the women who wear the bindi. The treated bindis act just like transdermal patches, providing women with the 150 to 220 micrograms of iodine they require daily. You can read more about it here: http://grey.com/global/work/key/singapore-life-saving-dot/id/5623/

These 4 wearables stood out to me and I’m excited to see what will be the outcome of the Wearables for Good Challenge. We received hundreds of entries from over 6 continents making it the most inclusive challenge worldwide. The 10 finalists are going to be announced in the coming weeks, and the two winners of the challenge will be announced in November. Stay tuned!

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