In the last debate of the parliamentary term on a hot sweltering afternoon, I spoke about one of my current important priorities – the menopause.
You can watch my whole speech by clicking here.
You can also read my full speech from the adjournment debate on July 24th below.
I wish to speak about a subject that is very personal to me, as it is to millions of other women, and that is the menopause. I speak about this topic from my own personal experience. I started to suffer from horrible migraines that prevented me from actually doing my job properly. I did not know why I was suffering from them. I thought it might be because I had taken up a stressful job and had a change in my personal circumstances. It was only when I started to do some research and look into the menopause itself that I discovered that migraines could be a symptom. Like many other people, I had heard in the popular press and in the media about hot flushes, but I was completely lacking in any knowledge about the menopause.
On my personal journey into this topic, I have discovered that there is a shocking lack of awareness and treatment for women who are going through the menopause. The menopause affects every woman in this country and it of course also affects every man who works with, lives with or is related to a woman, so it is fair to say that it actually affects every single person in this country. Yet, in my research, I found that it has been mentioned only 27 times in Hansard in the last three years, and I really wonder why.
I will focus on three key areas. The first is the workplace. I want to point out that some fantastic organisations already acknowledge and recognise the effects of the menopause on women in the workplace. The West Midlands police are one. There is tailored support there for women, which helps them to build their confidence, to stay in the workplace and to get access to the support they need. However, it is clear that many other organisations need to take a cue from that. After all, we are all expected to work for longer and to contribute, so it will obviously have an effect on the economic growth and productivity of other organisations if they can also adopt those practices.
The second point is about medical treatment. I am absolutely delighted that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced £20 billion of funding for the NHS. Please can we have some more support for menopause from those funds? Approximately 13 million women in the UK are peri-menopausal or post-menopausal. The symptoms can last up to 15 years, but too many women are suffering in silence. They are left frustrated and disappointed when they go to their GP. Their symptoms are not recognised and they do not get the hormone replacement treatment that they really need. They are misdiagnosed and told to get on with it, and their symptoms are often belittled or not understood. We see that in the popular debate, in which women are talked about as being “crazy” or as “losing it”, and this is just not a good state of affairs. It is a taboo. It is not understood and we need to do better as a Government.
The third point is very much around education. At the start of their life, we educate girls about periods. Why cannot we also explain to them what will happen at the end of their life? It is not just the fact that menstruation ends; it is a whole process. It is a natural process that we go through. It can be a liberating process, which frees people to contribute to society. That is how it should be—a positive experience. It should not be denigrated. Women should not feel that their purpose is used up, and that now they are left to wither and die.
In the course of my research I looked at Instagram—one place where I find that social media is quite positive. There is a lot of support around menopause on Instagram. We are told that it is the club that no one wants to join, and it sometimes feels like that, because if a woman speaks up about the fact that she is suffering from menopause—maybe in the workplace, perhaps in an organisation that is not particularly sympathetic—she may be belittled. But I think it is time that we take back control of our bodies. We should not be joked about. We should not be written off. It is a time for us to be loud and proud about our achievements.
Society’s attitudes to women are changing, and I welcome that. We talk about mental health and a range of issues; that is absolutely fantastic. Menopause should not be a negative time. I pay tribute to some of the fantastic women I have worked with, who have helped me, and whose work I hope to take forward: women such as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women’s health—I do not think she is present, but we shall be meeting and working on this issue—Louise Newson, the menopause doctor; Diane Danzebrink; and Liz Earle.
I finish with a really sad quote. A woman asked: “Does anyone else find that their confidence, their motivation and enthusiasm have disappeared during the menopause?”
I make a plea for us to really look at this issue and give it the attention it deserves. If women are freed up and allowed to live their lives to the fullest at this time of their life, they can contribute to society and give so much back.
This campaign is needed to break one of the last societal taboos
Since I’ve started speaking about this topic in the Chamber and on social media, I have been inundated with women from all over the country getting in touch with me sharing their experiences. It’s clear that this campaign is really needed to break one of the last societal taboos, and to improve treatment and support for menopausal and peri-menopausal women.
When Parliament returns I will be getting back to work on my three key campaign objectives. First, ensuring that GPs are more aware. I hear so often that HRT, which can be incredibly effective, often isn’t prescribed. Women end up being prescribed anti-depressants or even heart medication. This is only adding to the pressure on the NHS. And of course it has an extremely negative effect on women’s mental health.
I’m delighted that this is an issue that unites MPs across the House, with great support from the APPG for Womens’ Health who I will be working with on their menopause enquiry.
We will definitely achieve more working together.
Secondly, I want to see workplaces step up their efforts to better understand and support women going through the menopause. It angers me when this is trivialised as just “hot flushes” or women getting old and crazy. These stereotypes are so demeaning, outdated and negative. They are some of the worst sexist and ageist insults. They reduce women’s contribution to society to just that of their reproductive functions, and suggests that when that is over, we should just get out of the way because our useful years are used up.
How wrong this is. Women of menopausal age have so much to contribute, as businesses struggle to find the right talent in a world of full employment. I started a whole new career at the age of 51, and I passionately believe that no-one should be written off because of their age. So there is much more to do for organisations to have proper policies to support all the symptoms of menopause, which is about so much more than just hot flushes. It’s tragic that many women are forced to leave their jobs, just at the time when they are the peak of their careers, because they are suffering anxiety, depression or lack of confidence, or other serious symptoms, and worse, often these are misdiagnosed or untreated menopausal symptoms.
And there is a huge upside for organisations who do implement these policies, they will experience a productive, happy and age-diverse workforce, which will in turn improve their performance.
Finally, education is a critical aspect. I vividly remember being taught about periods and how tampons work when I was in primary school. But there was no explanation of what happens at the end of reproductive life. This needs to be included so that girls and boys have a greater understanding of what their family members might be going through.
I’m pleased that I’m managing to break through the menopause taboo in Parliament. Prior to my speech today, menopause had only been mentioned 27 times in the last three years and at least a couple of those mentions were by me. I’m going to keep bringing this up until Parliament is bored of me and until we have achieved the change we need.
If you’re with me, contact me here to keep up to date with my progress and to get more involved. After all, menopause affects every woman in the country, and every man who lives with or works with a woman. That’s basically everyone!