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UK government denies calls for ‘menopause leave’

Proposals to change British legislation to protect the rights of women experiencing menopause have been dismissed due to fears such a move would discriminate against men.

While women’s health has undergone a generational culture shift in recent years, prompting more open discourse around historically stigmatised concerns regarding our wombs, tales of dismissal by both male and female physicians remain rife.

This issue is known as the gender health gap, whereby women are taken less seriously by medical experts, particularly in the field of female-specific illnesses like endometriosisperimenopause, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Continually finding it much harder than men to have our bodies understood, women have been conditioned time and time again to believe that pain and discomfort are normal, with receiving a diagnosis – let alone adequate treatment – an all but impossible feat.

Unfortunately, with the exception of countries like Spain where lawmakers have guaranteed that female employees feel as though their reproductive health is respected within a professional setting, this translates rather poorly in the workplace.

In the UK, the latest example of this is the government’s decision to deny calls for ‘menopause leave’ due to fears that such a move would ‘discriminate against men.’

What is Menopause? And Other Menopause Questions Answered

It also dismissed a recommendation to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, which would make it illegal to discriminate against like age, disability, and race, among others.

In its official response, the government cited ‘unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions,’ as its reason for rejecting the proposals outright.

Instead, it claims to be focusing on encouraging employers to implement workplace menopause policies, adding ‘we are concerned specific leave may be counterproductive to achieving this goal.’

According to the BBC, the initial suggestions came from the Women and Equalities Committee, which accused ministers of making ‘glacial progress’ on menopause support.

In July last year, the cross-party group of MPs published a report warning that the impact of menopause (affecting 45 per cent of British women) was causing the UK economy to ‘haemorrhage talent’ because a lack of assistance alongside ‘insensitive and rigid sickness policies’ was pushing women out of work.

GUEST POST: Bridging the gender health gap | Engender blog | Engender

It was on the back of a poll disclosing that healthcare for women in the UK is as bad as Kazakhstan and worse than that provided in China.

As revealed by the 2021 Hologic Global Women’s Health Index, Britain ranked lower than the US, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany, with inadequate access to preventative care, such as screening for cancer, diagnosis of causes of pain, and mental health support behind its poor outcome.

The UK scored 60 out of 100 (three points lower than the previous year), placing it on a par with Slovenia, Kosovo, Poland, and Ireland.

‘For too long women have faced stigma, shame and dismissive attitudes when it comes to menopause,’ says the committee’s Conservative chair, Caroline Nokes.

Like Nokes, labour MP Carolyn Harris deems ministers’ reluctance to accept the report a ‘complete and utter sign of contemptible disrespect for women.’

Workplace Menopause Leave: What it Looks Like and Why it Matters

The government said it accepted, in principle, some of the recommendations.

These include calls to appoint a menopause ambassador and to bring forward legislation to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees.

However ministers did not actually commit to any new work in response to the report, the committee said in a statement.

‘The evidence to our inquiry was crystal clear that urgent action was needed across healthcare and work settings to properly address women’s needs,’ adds Nokes.

‘Yet the response demonstrates a missed opportunity to protect vast numbers of talented and experienced women from leaving the workforce and leaves me unconvinced that menopause is a government priority.’


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