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Why menopause needs to be discussed more

Source: Women's Health Initiative

By Kat Smith

On World Menopause Day, Channel 4 announced its first menopause policy. The policy includes offering flexible working arrangements, paid leave if side effects require it, a quiet and cool workspace, amongst other resources and support. 

In a survey carried out by Forth with Life, 90% of women said that their workplace had no policy for menopause. While menopause will be a brutal reality for pretty much half of the population, the lack of workplace support shows a great disillusionment with the severity of its symptoms. From hot flushes and sleeping problems, to anxiety and low mood, the most common symptoms demonstrate why policies like Channel 4’s must become the norm.

Menopause affects pretty much every part of your body (brain, skin, muscles, bones and mental wellbeing). It’s also not just the duration of menopause that throws up problems for women; bones become weaker creating a bigger risk of osteoporosis, and stroke and heart disease become a greater threat post-menopause too.

I am ashamed that I am only just learning the full extent of it now. I didn’t even realise there was a World Menopause Day, and failed to see menopause as a potential disruption to my future career. As students, the prospect of menopause is a distant one for most of us. The process happens between 45-55 years, though surgery and other factors can alter this. Despite being a cis-gendered woman and knowing that menopause is an inevitability, it really hadn’t crossed my mind that it is going to affect my life.

Bodily processes need to be treated with more respect even before the stage of menopause. Discussion around ‘period-friendly workplaces’ has swept the media in 2019, with one Swedish start-up becoming one of the world’s first. It’s time to break the taboo around menopause and menstruation, even if they feel like a guaranteed inconvenience that we can be easily overlooked.

There is a lack of education around the female body as it is. Despite having gone to a girls’ school, I was never taught about menopause and was taught very little about menstruation except for the occasional mention in science. With 90% of women facing no support from their workplace, ignorance over menopause is yet another piece of evidence that the complexities of the female body are so often overlooked. ‘Menopause’ seems like another discussion framed to undermine women, demeaning their pain both emotionally and physically, as is the case with discussion surrounding menstruation. When it’s a change in hormones, it’s easy to associate it with mood swings and irritability, but the emotional and physical side effects of menopause and menstruation are dangerously underplayed in public discourse.

The normalisation and addressing of menopause are important for all of us. We cannot antagonise people for not understanding the potential severity of menopausal symptoms when no legislation or policy is used to demonstrate it. Economically, how can you expect someone to work well when they are experiencing such a dramatic change in hormones? These policies don’t only accommodate for women, but they also acknowledge that those going through menopause will not be at the top of their game if their needs are not addressed.

With its fame and reach, Channel 4’s first menopause policy will hopefully set off a positive chain reaction. But with the luxury tax still plastered on every sanitary towel pack and tampon box, it is not looking like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

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