In a recently televised experiment on the BBC, two male politicians agreed to wear zip-up vests designed to mimic a hot flush. After this uncomfortable experience one of them asserted that women needed support in order to contribute to the economy for longer, while the other pronounced that what affects women also affects family life, which must be supported.

Each of these men gave valid reasons for taking menopause seriously; but I was left wondering why funding women’s mental and physical well-being had to be justified either in direct financial terms (contribution to the economy) or indirectly, through women’s support for others (family life). Women’s well-being seemed only to matter as long as it was deemed ‘useful’ in some way. Supporting well-being because it is a good in itself doesn’t seem to have occurred to them. Isn’t upholding the dignity of life, and improving the quality of that life, the proper goal of any politics?

Politicians looking uncomfortable in zip-up jackets was just one of many news items on the menopause in recent years. Prominent women are now using their public platforms to push for change. Indeed, so many have joined this chorus that a small revolution in attitudes has begun. By publicly documenting their own trials and triumphs on the menopausal journey, these women have begun to blow away centuries of ignorance and taboo, and in so doing increased awareness of the impact menopause can have on women’s mental as well as physical health.

There is also increased coverage of scientific research into different forms of HRT, and older women are sharing what they wish they’d known before the onset of menopause in order to help prepare and support younger generations. These campaigns have fuelled such an increase in demand for HRT that parts of the UK are experiencing serious supply shortages.

Menopause is no longer something we whisper about. It is now unacceptable for managers to scoff at women’s requests for ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace. Menopause is at last being brought out of the shadows. Where women were once expected to retreat and suffer in silence, their concerns and perspectives are now coming into the full glare of the media.

In February 2024, The Equality and Human Rights Commission issued guidelines, including a video, aimed at employers wishing ‘to ensure fairness and inclusivity in the workplace’ for female employees struggling with menopausal symptoms. The full guidelines and the research underpinning them led to their creation can be read on the EHRC web site. This is a big step forward – and the advice is both clear and practical. But these are still only guidelines. Employers are not obliged to provide what they consider goes beyond ‘reasonable adjustments’.

But some employers are listening. In 2018 just 10% of employers offered any kind of support, according to a recent article in Positive News. This year (2024) has seen that rise to around 46%. Over 1,500 major employers have signed the Wellbeing of Women workplace pledge to improve conditions for employees going through the menopause. And recent years have seen a steady growth in grassroots help and support groups. Menopause cafés are opening in some companies and in public spaces, offering a place to chat through worries and share advice with women at or approaching the same stage of life.

There is increasing awareness of early menopause, too, and of the various symptoms of perimenopause. The astonishing disclosure in a 2021 UCL research report by Dr Megan Arnot that menopause is not even being studied in 59% of our medical colleges has prompted a call to overhaul education at every level. A positive outcome of this report has been funding for researchers at UCL to develop the UK’s first national menopause education and support programme, to be delivered in community settings.

Much of the conversation is centred around dealing with symptoms, which is of course crucial, but there is still a tendency to treat menopause as a problem. Menopause is not a problem if women are given space and time to adjust. It is not simply a change of body that can be sorted out with a desk fan and the right hormone supplements. It requires a shift of perspective on life, our place in the cycle of nature, and in the universe of which we are all part. Menopausal women, no less than young women or teenagers, need time to exercise, to eat well, to rest properly, and to think. We need to be cut some slack at times in the workplace and for our continuing contribution to be recognised, and we also need space to reflect on the passage of time, on what we wish to do with our remaining decades, on what is important to us, and how we can plan for a healthy, happy old age.

I salute and applaud those women who are using their public profile to bring about change. There’s still a long way to go but at least we’re now openly and unashamedly talking about the subject. Women won’t be going back to suffering in silence any time soon.