Empowered Aging: Navigating Menopause With Duty Queens

A lot of turbulence occurs in the emotional sphere or within the boundaries of the bedroom in a woman’s life who is about to go through or is already battling menopause

 Empowered Aging: Navigating Menopause With Duty Queens

The English language holds a magical allure for non-English colonized nationals. It provides us with a miraculously convenient means to express, deliberate, and contemplate ideas that we often struggle to articulate in our native languages. It also challenges us to grapple with finding culturally appropriate and scientifically precise equivalents. The language is not only interesting but also possesses a comic side, as evident in the embedded gender bias. Consider words like ‘Misogynistic,’ 'Misunderstanding,' 'Misnomer,' 'Misperception,' 'Miscalculation,' and others, juxtaposed with terms like 'Menstrual,' 'Menopause,' 'Mental,' and so on. 

However, the purpose of this piece is neither to emphasize the callous humor in the English language nor the chauvinism in the medical language but to prepare my readers for a much-neglected workplace issue that concerns women.

I have been expressing, in various writings, interviews, and talks, about a yet-to-be-detected form of discrimination called Ageism against women in formal workplaces. When I first raised this issue in my podcast series Duty Queens and FeminisTea with some notable feminists in Pakistan, I was taken aback by their total ignorance about this phenomenon. Some even mocked me and 'politely' conveyed that there is no such word in English. 

However, my activist soul, no matter how bruised, never gets broken, and I continue advocating for this issue without any funds or supportive friends.

Menopause is not only a normal milestone in a woman’s life, marked by the end of the monthly menstrual cycle and hormonal changes, but it is also a feminist and gender issue. 

Every year, I write about a specific issue that I perceive as Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Prior to the launch of officially recognized, hyphenated, and substantially sponsored activities falling under the global 16 Days of Activism against GBV, a key international moment to call for an end to violence against women and girls. 

This November, too, I am raising the red flag for an issue that is known to the fraternity of medical doctors in general and gynecologists in particular but has yet to be mainstreamed in media and management at workplaces.

Menopause is not only a normal milestone in a woman’s life, marked by the end of the monthly menstrual cycle and hormonal changes, but it is also a feminist and gender issue. Typically occurring after the age of 40, premature menopause can be experienced by women as young as their 20s under specific conditions such as exposure to radiation due to carcinomas, autoimmune diseases, family history, etc. 

My focus here is on women who are aging and experiencing symptoms of menopause in an apparently insensitive workplace. In a shockingly patriarchal and unjust world, women not only bear a greater burden of diseases biologically but also endure a greater share of silence and stigma. Since women are not homogeneous, the extent of vulnerabilities and voicelessness is even greater for non-whites, neo-colonized women who are further segregated by class, caste, creed, and other communal parameters.

A lot of turbulence occurs in the emotional sphere or within the boundaries of the bedroom in a woman’s life who is about to go through or is already battling menopause. This tumultuous phase is largely shaped by patriarchal social attitudes that influence medical facts and create more fear. 

Many women begin to question their worth instead of celebrating freedom from contraception, the burden of reproduction, and successful navigation of an early career pathway filled with the stress of impressing, passing exams, and more.

In Pakistan, where health has yet to be recognized as a constitutional right and gender equality indices score too low, it is not surprising but certainly saddening to observe the absence of formal workplace policies in both public-sector organizations and private-sector entities (with only a few outliers) that explicitly address menopause. 

Such policies are not common, even in the US. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, the world's largest integrated, not-for-profit medical group practice, in April 2023, revealed that menopause costs an estimated $1.8 billion in lost working time per year for women in the U.S. This significantly impacts productivity and employee retention, ultimately leading to higher costs for employers.

In the UK, a 2022 survey exposed that over 90% of women experience severe menopause symptoms, yet only half seek help from a doctor, and 41% of doctor training in the UK does not cover menopause. 

Perhaps the advocacy model for a daycare or breastfeeding space at the workplace could be adapted to meet the needs of women experiencing menopausal symptoms. This could ensure that they feel recognized and welcomed, enabling them to contribute their best during the post-menopausal years, especially in industries that tend to be ageist, particularly towards women.

Despite the lack of due attention to this crucial area, it is heartening to note that this month, the Pakistan Society of Menopause (PMS), in collaboration with the South Asian Federation of Menopausal Societies (SAFOMS), successfully organized a two-day international conference on 18-19 November 2023.  The event featured over fifty highly accomplished experts, specializing in various subspecialties relevant to the broader umbrella topic of menopause. The conference included back-to-back, parallel scientific sessions and undoubtedly contributed to horizontal learning as well.

Considering the status of women and the state of women’s health here, I was personally delighted to see a sizeable number of women and a few male experts in Gynecology and Obstetrics. They were primarily educated and trained in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and have gained international stature, coming together to share their research work and hard-earned experiences.

Eminent gynaecologists and obstetricians like Prof. Dr. Rubina Hussain (President, PMS) and Prof. Dr. Syeda Batool Mazhar (President-Elect, SAFOMS), along with their equally shining national and South Asian colleagues as office bearers, deserve applause. I conclude this piece with the dream of a time when Duty Queens would regularly appear on our TV morning shows and current affairs programs, instead of those who only contribute to damaging our thought processes through propaganda and the prioritization of a hollow lifestyle promoted by short-lived beauty queens.

Pakistani intersectional feminist Dr. Rakhshinda Perveen is a volunteer campaigner for causes like anti-dowry violence legislation, gender and marital-status-based taxation and creating empathy for the forgotten “missing Pakistanis” aka Biharis. The writer is a public health expert, a former senior gender advisor to different UN agencies, and the former South Asian Gender Advisor to CIDA. She was also the first trainer on social marketing of contraceptives in the North of Pakistan. She can be reached via Twitter: @Kafekaam