There have been a lot of indignant women in the UK this week. The government rejected suggestions from the Women and Equalities Committee, including to introduce ‘menopause leave’ and make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
A lot of women feel very let down and I get that.
The wording used for rejecting menopause as a protected characteristic was unfortunate. The government said such a move could have “unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long term medical conditions or eroding existing protections.”
So of course the headlines were all about the protected characteristic proposal being rejected because it could hurt men. Not good. In fact, we can still fight menopause discrimination under three other protected characteristics – age, sex and disability. So there are ways around any such discrimination. We can fight it! All is not lost.
While I don’t like this government, I looked at their report and it’s very comprehensive. There were actually 12 recommendations and the government rejected 5. That means they accepted 7 wholly or in part. That doesn’t get covered in the media though.
The cost of HRT is set to plummet and doctors are getting better informed, even if on-going training is not being made compulsory. It is already a part of the UK medical curriculum – perhaps it is the older doctors who are less well informed? There are already lots of initiatives to raise awareness including making menopause part of the curriculum at school and encouraging employers to be more supportive.
There’s going to be a Menopause Employment Champion appointed and the NHS England National Menopause Care Improvement Programme, launched in 2021, is working to improve clinical care for menopause in England (shame that’s devolved). The campaigners have done great work to get things to change. Women are speaking up and being heard more.
The government wording I quoted above, highlights for me that menopause is viewed as a medical condition, when it is in fact a natural transition in a woman’s life, puberty in reverse. Medical conditions need medication, hence why all we hear about with menopause is HRT, when in reality it is lifestyle factors that often influence how bad natural (non surgical or illness related) menopause can be.
I just hope with all this awareness raising and championing, that the focus isn’t solely on HRT, but on how we can use menopause symptoms as the impetus to sort out our lifestyle, to give us great midlife health and set us up well for the long term.
I personally can’t see how menopause leave could work. Menopause isn’t like pregnancy with a fixed time limit. It can go on for years. If a woman is still having hot flushes in her 60s, having had them in her 40s, would she still be entitled to meno leave? It would be very difficult to manage. I also don’t want another easy reason for organisations not to want to employ older women.
But we could definitely benefit from more workplace understanding and flexible working! And that recommendation was accepted too – to make flexible working an option from day 1 of employment.
If you’re interested in the detail of this, I really recommend reading the actual government report rather than relying on the sensationalist media. Maybe I’ve just bought in to the propaganda. But it does make a lot of sense to me. And I always like to go back to the source. Click here for the report.
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