Investing in women’s health – and yes, the menopause – must be a daily promise
Yesterday, City firms up and down the country celebrated international women’s day and lauded the women on their staff – but they need to invest in their health every day to see the rewards, writes Samantha Downes.
Women’s health and International Women’s Day go hand-in-hand. But, until recently, one of the biggest physiological events in a woman’s life went by largely ignored.
Unlike motherhood, or giving birth, every single woman who lives into her 50s will experience it.
Yep, I’m writing about the menopause, or as some of my older relatives and the generation above me still call it: “the change”.
The reason why it may not have had quite so much attention is because – gasp – many women actually saw it as a form of liberation.
Until the late 1960s there was no freely available contraception. This meant that with the change of life came a freedom, largely not having to worry about getting pregnant.
Now we have more choice thanks to an opening up of education, equal pay laws and an evolving view of women in society, which is (largely) more enlightened.
But our bodies have not evolved.
Leaving it longer to have children also means many women are going through the menopause when they still have young children to look after. In fact, the number of women who gave birth when they were over 40 totalled 29,000 in 2017 compared to just 14,739 in 1997. And then some of us will also have parents to look after.
The bottom line is all these things place demands on our physical selves that we wouldn’t have dreamed of taking on in our carefree 20s or 30s.
No wonder when hormone replacement therapy (HRT) started running short last year women were demanding that a state of emergency was declared.
Oestrogen gel may be seen as a wonder drug, or a “luxury”, but for most women working full time and looking after older and younger families, it is the fuel that allows us to keep functioning.
Our legs and arms, whether we like it or not, are still reaching an age where they are biologically craving to take things easier.
But that’s not an option for my generation even if we wanted to.
We missed out on final salary schemes and our pensions may be needed to support our children throughout university, and to assist our parents who may need nursing care in the future.
I’m not demanding sympathy or playing a victim.
I love working and want to work full time as long as I can. Plus, I’m not yet fully menopausal: I was prescribed HRT at the end of the pandemic because my sleep appeared to have become disturbed and I was getting more anxious.
My two pumps a day of oestrogen helps me get a reasonable amount of shut eye and by doing so keep my energy levels high enough to hold down a demanding job.
On the minus side it makes me more emotional than I’d like – I was crying at press release pictures of an electric London black cab and I’ve lost half a stone I didn’t need to.
HRT is not the only tool in our armour though, in order to keep working into our 50s professional women have to be both incredibly stubborn and open minded.
Working three to four days a week from home is not a luxury but a necessity, especially if you do have young children.
This also does mean that while you don’t see us, on the train and queuing for Pret, we are still here.
But I wonder for how much longer, because some more support is needed. There are reports that women who work full-time will be more likely to suffer from burn out because of the mental load they often carry.
The good news is, if you are a younger woman reading this, menopause is just a phase and the end of your fertile years also come with another freedom, one that feminism doesn’t always allow us but that you too will discover when you get there.
In the meantime my message to employers, particularly those in the City of London, is to let us menopausal, or perimenopausal or even older women who’ve already been there and done it, be seen and keep being seen.
Invest in us and your workforce will be a more enlightened, diverse and exciting place.