Not retiring: the menopause under the microscope

In the week of International Women’s Day, the Government’s action – and inaction – on the menopause has come under scrutiny.

Scrabble cubes spell out menopause. Plant in the background.


It’s been International Women’s Day this week and I’ve been at the TUC Women’s Conference where menopause has featured fairly prominently among other issues with at least two motions relating to it. Access to HRT and menopause leave were hot topics. This follows the Government’s rejection of even a trial for menopause leave. In fact, the Government rejected most of the Women & Equalities Committee’s recommendations on action on the menopause.

The equalities minister Kemi Badenoch spoke to the Committee last week and defended its stance, for instance, its refusal to accept menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act on the grounds that it opened the door for all sorts of other claims, for instance, by people with ginger hair or tall people. Menopause affects all women – that’s not a small part of the population. Pregnancy and maternity are protected characteristics and not all women get pregnant. Yet all women will go through the menopause. Badenoch rejected a trial for menopause leave on the grounds basically that the Government had better things to do and it could be discriminatory to men with health problems.

It’s not the first time the Government has rejected most of the recommendations of reports by the Women & Equalities Committee. The feeling you get when you attend these meetings is that there isn’t much interest in doing anything much related to women. It’s more of an exercise in how little they can do – which is not to say they are doing nothing. This week – for International Women’s Day – they announced a menopause employment champion who will work with employers to promote menopause awareness and policies. There’s only so much one woman can do, however, and it sounds as if, as usual, the bulk of the work will be left to employers – probably the usual ones who sign up to commitments and pledges to promote greater equality in the workplace. That’s great for them and their employees and it’s not to say that those employers aren’t doing wonderful things, but it won’t reach most employers. That is what government is for.

Yet time and again any progressive work in the workplace is left to employers. Even if the Government can’t do much, which is disputed, and if menopause leave might not be the right way to go [bearing in mind the Committee were only asking for a trial], at the very least they could give the impression that they care. That is definitely not what comes across when you listen to Badenoch in action.¬† God knows we recognise there are all sorts of pressure on Government at the moment, mostly of their own making, but empathy is free.

At the TUC conference delegates spoke of women they knew who had lost their jobs due to the menopause, had lost pay for taking time off and had disproportionately faced disciplinary or capability procedures. Not all women suffer badly from menopause symptoms and any symptoms will vary in severity, but a good percentage find menopause symptoms difficult to handle. A workplace designed for men makes it difficult and embarrassing to raise these issues and leads to a lack of empathy. That has to change.

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