Blog: Why we should all take the menopause seriously

World Menopause Day is a reminder that the menopause is a workplace issue, says Christina McAnea

Yesterday was World Menopause Day, a date that’s been designated for 10 years by the World Health Organisation and the International Menopause Society as a day to raise awareness of the menopause.

It’s important for UNISON, not only because we are the UK’s largest women’s organisation with over one million female members, but because women make up just over half of the UK’s workforce.

The menopause is an occupational health issue, an equality issue, and therefore a trade union issue.

Menopause might not necessarily hit during a woman’s late forties or early fifties; it can affect younger women too, through premature menopause or a medical menopause. It can also affect transgender and non-binary people.

Talking about the menopause has been taboo for too long, prompting jokes about hot flushes and whispers about competence. The symptoms can come as a surprise and are easily exacerbated by the workplace.

Memory lapses, hot flushes, poor sleeping habits and even depression and suicidal thoughts can accompany this life transition. Regular sickness absences can trigger warnings and leave some feeling they have no option other than to leave their jobs.

We’ve already produced a UNISON guide for our activists to make sure women get the right support from their UNISON reps while they are experiencing the menopause. Awareness training, flexible procedures for sickness absence and a menopause policy form the basis of our key asks in bargaining.

This guidance needs to be used by all workplace reps, because everyone needs to be allies in this, including men.

Next week, our National Women’s Officer, Josie Irwin, is contributing to a parliamentary Women and Equalities roundtable on the menopause as part of the committee’s ongoing inquiry on menopause and the workplace.

This is just one of the ways that UNISON is taking our members’ issues to the heart of government and shaping policy on women in the workplace at the highest level.