As computer science student Megan Henlisia looked around her male-dominated class at Mount Royal University, she realized she needed to disrupt some antiquated ideas about menstruation with her final project.
That’s how Flowchart was born, her menstruation-tracking app that allows users to track and share their cycles with partners, physicians and anyone else who would benefit from knowing more about a woman’s cycle.
“I mean, I did it to make people uncomfortable,” says Henlisia. “But I think being uncomfortable comes from a weird place, which I wanted to change.”
With so few women in Henlisia’s computer science program, there is little understanding of gender-related issues, like menstruation. An Alberta-wide analysis of computer science enrollments at several colleges and universities showed that in 2016, the ratio of students taking one computer science course was 4000 men to 600 women, respectively.
Jordan Kidney, a computer science professor at Mount Royal University, agrees more education on menstruation is needed but adds the gender divide isn’t the only factor at play.
“People don’t want to talk about it,” he says. “It annoys me that it’s so easy for people to draw penises on everything but they won’t talk about menstruation or believe that men should learn or know anything about it. But it’s something that happens that we shouldn’t ignore.”
Henlisia agrees more education is needed. She hopes her app, which is still at the prototype phase, will help to develop new behaviour about how people talk about menstruation.
“I can’t think of a better way to let [your partner] know what’s happening with your body,” she says.
A physician’s ability to track a woman’s menstrual cycle can be especially important. For example, as reported on the menstruation app and website, Clue, a woman in 2017 found an ovarian tumour; the discovery was linked to her being able to track her menstruation cycle and symptoms.
As for what’s next for Flowchart, Henlisia says she’s still unsure about taking the app to market.
“I don’t know if we’ll actually launch the project, but even if the idea is out there, that’ll be good enough,” she says.