The Government’s Rejection of Menopause Leave: Another Chapter in Medical Misogyny

Continuing TWSS’ exploration of misogyny within the medical field, Charlotte Kyle addresses the government’s recent decisions regarding menopause leave and how this reflects the inherent undermining the health issues of women and those who menstruate.

In a world where women’s health issues have consistently been held in disregard and pushed to the back of the political agenda, the Women and Equalities Committee’s report had the power to inspire systematic feminist change. The government’s response, however, symbolises another setback for the cause. 

In July 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report detailing the impact of menopause upon menstruators in our workforce and, ultimately, the large-scale impact on the UK economy. They described it as an issue that was causing a “haemorrhage” of talent, causing mental and physical struggles that impede people from reaching their full potential. The Committee offered twelve proposals within the report, outlining how menopause sufferers could be supported in the workplace.

However, in January of 2023, the government rejected five of the proposals offered in the report, including the suggestion to “develop and pilot a specific menopause leave policy”. The government described the proposal as “counterproductive”, and ultimately refused to amend the Equalities Act. The report has shown us that those who experience menopause are struggling. However, the government clearly doesn’t see this as a priority, and, by doing nothing, has implied that the current system is working fine. 

Indeed, they went on to suggest that such a policy could create a discrimination towards men, referring to men who may, for example, be suffering from long-term health issues. The governmental response summarises the forces that continue to push women’s health issues to the back of the political agenda: this systematic oppression of discussion and policies is a tale as old as time, and the simple fact of comparing the menopause to men’s long-term health issues is endlessly problematic.

Of course, a plethora of long-term issues can impact men’s health (which, by the way, too often aren’t being adequately accommodated either). But the crux of the matter is that half of the UK population will experience the menopause in their lifetime, and  – 99% of the time – will experience it while of working age. According to the NHS, common symptoms of  menopause include low mood, anxiety, mood swings, memory and concentration problems, hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, palpitations, migraines, muscle and joint pain, as well as  other mental and physical problems. What has gone so wrong with our society to lead us to a point where women are expected to deal with these issues while working full time, and likely raising children and running a household?

Artwork by Charlotte Carpenter

For too long women’s health issues have been considered to be of minor importance, and now it’s time for serious legislative change. The apathy around these issues is the legacy of inadequate education, starting from primary school-age sexual education all the way up to a silencing of these issues in workforces and governments. The solution to this must surely involve an increased focus on education around the menopause and other reproductive health issues (including the equally ignored topic of the impact of hormonal birth control on women’s lives), starting with children of all genders.

An adequate education programme would involve a dialogue around menopause promoted via training, sharing of experiences, awareness workshops and talks from female health experts. Approaches such as nutrition and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can massively minimise menopausal symptoms, but many women are not even aware of the options available to them. 

As much as this greater social awareness is essential for supporting menstruators, this alone won’t see the change we so desperately need. The way in which we are expected to live and work (‘hustling, grinding and girlbossing’) disrupts our ability to listen to our bodies. The patriarchal expectation to deal with these huge hormonal changes while continuing to thrive in the workplace is an impossible ask for so many of us. Clearly, there is a class element at play here, meaning any socially or economically disadvantaged menopause sufferers are struggling under the crushing intersection of poverty, instability, and patriarchal standards. 

For working class women who may be raising children while working under insecure or temporary contracts, the option of even taking a day off to rest and recharge while experiencing particularly bad hormonal symptoms is not available. Menopause leave had the potential to change this. The rejection of this proposal is symbolic of this damaging culture in which we exist, and poses the question: where is the space for our mental and physical wellbeing within our current capitalist hustle culture?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s