By Ruth Coppinger
The outpouring from women about the menopause on RTE’s ‘Liveline’ was real insight into the misogyny, ageism and sheer backwardness in this society. The fact that menopause — a natural physical bodily transition that happens to more than half the population — has been so taboo and ignored is some reflection on the sexism and medical misogyny that dominates our culture.
Now, as a further sign of the political and social change that’s happened in Ireland and globally, women are breaking the silence, speaking out and demanding information and treatment.
The Liveline discussion has sparked a massive rise in membership of the online Irish Menopause group, where thousands of women are sharing experiences and information to help each other through what is often a horrific experience.
Sexism in medicine
We also saw the airing of a programme on menopause on Channel 4 by Davina McCall, who has brought her celebrity status to the issue in the UK, where despite being better served with menopause clinics, distribution of these are patchy, especially in working-class areas. And even in the UK the subject is still surrounded by embarrassment.
It’s hardly surprising that Ireland, with patriarchal and Catholic domination, has treated this area of women’s health appallingly. It’s barely studied in medical school, despite perimenopause and menopause affecting all women from their 40s on (and some much younger). Women are recounting many negative experiences with GPs.
A huge issue is the fact that only 10% of women (in the UK, maybe much less in Ireland) are being prescribed HRT because of a flawed and false cancer scare study 19 years ago. Estrogen patches and other HRT therapy can have huge benefits — but doctors are still stuck 20 years behind and refusing to prescribe it. Many are ignorant of the vast array of menopause symptoms and prescribing anti-depressants.
In the past, women were fobbed off with Valium. Our mothers and grandmothers were left to suffer for years in silence. The expressions ‘living on her nerves’ or ‘taking to the bed’ or other euphemisms were used as women dealt alone with hot or cold flashes, sleeplessness, low mood, fatigue, memory loss and a huge array of other symptoms.
Free treatment must be provided
Of course, when women do manage to get proper treatment, as usual with our backward health system, HRT and menopause therapies must be paid for if no medical card. They cost a lot of money. Perimenopause and menopause last for years. All treatment should be free.
Because people are now living longer and more women work outside the home, the question of leave and workplace supports must be demanded and campaigned for too. Many women reported having to give up their jobs because of symptoms. The frontline and essential services that have proven so vital during Covid are very much made up of menopausal women.
This public discussion on menopause is very welcome. Now we need political and trade union action.
The Irish Menopause – Facebook Group
#TheIrishMenopauseMission – Petition on Change.org