Invisible Women: Talking about Menopause

By Kay Williams, Lesley Kelly and Daphne Loads

Despite welcome changes in the way we think about women’s health and wellbeing, nevertheless in a recent STUC survey 32% of respondents said that menopause was treated negatively in their workplace and 63 % reported that it was treated as a joke. This can’t be good for women experiencing menopause, for girls and young women looking ahead to menopause, or for supportive colleagues and family members of all ages and genders. Inspired by (but not a part of) the Menopause Café movement the Invisible Women event was an open invitation to talk, listen and learn about menopause. Staff and students of all ages and any gender were welcome. We created an inclusive and supportive atmosphere, where the following things happened:

  • beginning to make it normal to talk about menopause
  • sharing information and raising awareness
  • learning how to manage our own wellbeing and support each other
  • being aware of the facts of menopause
  • feeling able to ask for support and reasonable adjustments
  • discussing experiences of living and working with menopause
  • sharing insights and tips
  • feeling less isolated
  • recognising that menopause transition is different for all women
  • having fun, drinking tea and enjoying cake!

Nine women of various ages from different parts of the University attended our event on the day. We split ourselves into two groups and proceeded with illuminating and supportive conversations, stimulated by prompt cards containing quotes from a variety of sources including BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour and the STUC report.

Some prompts featured personal experiences and reflections, such as author Allison Pearson’s observation made on Woman’s Hour (15 Jan 2018):

 “I really wish I’d known what was happening to me, so I could have discussed it with my children, instead of them thinking I was some kind of souped up Lady Macbeth.”

Excerpts from reports highlighted the lack of any consensus on how women experience menopausal-related symptoms:

“Overall the evidence offers estimates of the number of women who are negatively affected by transition symptoms at work which vary from 10% to 53%. Some of these studies  are more robust than others…  but no clear pattern emerges.”  Government Equalities Office report (2017)

Other sources challenged negative stereotypes and emphasised positive dimensions of change, such as this from relationships counsellor Pam Custers:

“The menopause is a perfect time to take stock of our life, …and start creating the kind of life we want.”

We received very positive feedback from the event, including comments like:

‘Helpful to chat with such lovely women. More of this kind of thing needed.’

‘Very informative and reassuring to hear other folk’s experiences.’

‘I would like to join an online community/ or a meetup group about menopause. I’d like to read more, talk more + listen more about it. This was a great event – thank you!

There is an appetite for the discussion to continue, and perhaps for these issues to ‘find a home’ at the University of Edinburgh – from where a supportive network might be managed, to enable staff (and students) to talk, to find information and support, and to feed into policy and practice where required.

Further resources:

Menopause cafes

BBC Radio 4 series on Menopause:

Clips available from Kirsty Wark’s 2017 documentary on the BBC2 page The Insiders’ Guide to the Menopause

Menopause on NHS inform (Scotland)

Menopause – Lothian Sexual Health

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