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Should menopause be part of HR policy in schools?

Should menopause be part of HR policy in schools? by Punam Mohandas

By Punam Mohandas  @PunamMohandas

Of late, I've been coming across some interesting discussions on Twitter among UK-based female teachers, on the subject of menopause. Clearly, it's an issue that deserves serious consideration in the workplace, among employers.

Whilst pregnancy is seen as a naturally occurring condition where women deserve to rest and recuperate and where not just maternal but now even paternal leave is granted, menopause is viewed as a more private matter and sadly, an issue that is pretty much swept under the carpet.

Menopause is still not a condition that is deserving of medical leave in most companies, even though many agree that it manifests itself in physical, emotional and mental ways. I have not heard of any educational institutions in India or Thailand granting leave solely on this basis. 

It's viewed as such a private matter that women teachers don't discuss it even among themselves. 

Period pains, yes - colleagues commiserate and sympathise with each other. 

Hot flushes? Mood swings? Nope – matter of 'shame'. I daresay that one would more likely be labelled moody and erratic, rather than receive empathy and sensitivity over the emotional form of a naturally occurring physical state!

Well, when you stop to think that menstruation is still a fairly taboo word and not to be discussed in public in Asian and Middle Eastern societies, talking about menopause is a far cry! Also, in my opinion, there is a certain solemnity accorded to it because, while it signifies the end of a woman's fertile cycle, it's also as though - culturally at least - it signals the end of her life! The Arab and most Asian cultures, accord a great significance to fertility. Even in the west, menopause is often accompanied by unattractive, negative labels and thus, the implications and symptoms of health are often overlooked in context of feeling "less worthy". For instance, in one study I read, Turkish women feel that menopause is the end of youth and femininity.

Culture has a huge impact on menopause, including the physical symptoms, because if there is a positive attitude towards it (rather than shame), it translates into fewer physical manifestations

For example, the lowest complaints during menopause have been noted among the Japanese, while Greek women don't consider any indications urgent enough to go for medical aid (Hunter, et al, 2009), and in cultures where age and experience is respected as wisdom, such as the Mayan or the Chinese, a woman is now considered "free" of the duties of motherhood and can now relax and enjoy her life. Apparently, the Chinese actually treat menopause as a form of 'rebirth'. 

Research also shows that the menopause affects women in their work.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), three in five menopausal women are negatively affected at work. A 2017 U.K. government report found that menopause is not a standard HR policy. Vodafone conducted its own research and found that two-thirds of women stated that menopause symptoms affected their work. Indirectly, of course, it impacts all co-workers. Currently, there is no legal requirement in place for companies to have a policy in place, although some senior women executives such as at Channel 4 or Glaxo SmithKline, are trying to introduce changes in their respective workplaces to this effect.

Sadly, educational institutions are yet to introduce policies specifically related to menopause in their HR considerations. When you consider that the age of retirement for teachers is 60 in Thailand and 65 in the UK, it stands to reason that a significant portion of the teaching force would have faced an inability to cope well at work due to menopause. Just to give you an idea, in 2020, 82.4% of primary school teachers in the UK were female, with India pegging it as 55.36%; 68.19% of secondary school teachers in Thailand were female and 71.46% of teachers in Singapore were female. 

Teachers don't fade away because they've reached a certain age; their brains don't just atrophy!

On the contrary, behind the age lies years of experience.

Whilst a younger teacher may have more energy to deal with students, a senior teacher will bring years of wisdom and maturity in her teaching methods.

Therefore, it becomes all the more imperative to treat menopause as the medical condition it is and allow her time off to rest when her body demands it, so that she is filled with fresh motivation and yes, renewed loyalty towards the workplace.

It's time to #BreakTheBias.

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Monday, 27 March 2023

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