A proposal to change UK law to protect the rights of people going through menopause has been rejected by the government, partly, it says, to avoid discriminating against men.
In a report published last summer, the cross-party women and equalities committee called for menopause to be made a protected characteristic, much like race or religion, under the Equality Act. This would make it illegal to discriminate against someone due to a symptom they experience as part of the transition from going through their monthly menstrual cycle to their last period – a process that on average takes around 4 years, but can last as long as 10. As you know, common menopausal symptoms include destabilising mood changes, feelings of anxiety, sleep issues and hot flushes.
The official governmental response to the request, though, said that the proposed change could cause 'unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions'.
In the cross-party report, a pilot trial of 'menopause leave' to support those suffering from debilitating symptoms was also called for. This, too, was rejected by the government, with the response stating that it was not understood to be 'necessary' and could be 'counterproductive'.
This is hard to hear for a number of reasons, but the most obvious is this: the desperate need to support women through health issues in their workplace is crystal clear, and has been for a long time. In 2022, WH polled our audience and found that 57% of those who struggle with a hormonal or gynaecological condition told us they believe it has harmed their career. A 2022 survey conducted by the the Fawcett Society and Channel 4, meanwhile, found that 10% had left their job because of symptoms of the menopause.
Reacting to the response, MPs said that progress supporting women's health issues both in the health system and in the workplace has been 'glacial'.
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said: 'This belated response to our report is 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.
'For too long women have faced stigma, shame and dismissive attitudes when it comes to menopause. The evidence to our inquiry was crystal clear that urgent action was needed across healthcare and work settings to properly address women’s needs, yet Government progress has been glacial and its response complacent.
'Its refusal to even consult on reforming equalities law doesn’t make sense and we urge it to look again.'
This rejection arrives at the same time as news dropped of healthcare for women in Britain ranking lower than the US, Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany, and being on the same level as Kazakhstan, according to the 2021 Hologic Global Women’s Health Index.
Speaking to the Guardian, a government spokesperson said: 'We recognise that the menopause can be a challenging time for women, which is why we have put women’s health at the top of the agenda as part of the first-ever women’s health strategy for England.
'We are implementing an ambitious programme of work with the NHS to improve menopause care so all women can access the support they need. We encourage employers to be compassionate and flexible to the needs of their employees, and are committed to supporting more flexible working patterns – having consulted on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to'.
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