Menopause In Africa: Still A Taboo Topic Despite Its Impact In The Workplace

Maria Gomez Mojica, Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant, Europe & Africa Region and Dr Irene Lai, Medical Director, International SOS

Menopause, and the preceding perimenopause, are natural biological transitions marking the end of reproductive years in a woman’s life. As women age, ovarian function declines, leading to irregular periods around mid to late 40s (perimenopause), before ceasing altogether around age 50.

Yet in the African context, more needs to be done to empower women of menopausal age. Stigma, cultural beliefs, myths and lack of open conversations leave many unprepared to navigate the impacts.

Organisations such as the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), collaborations such as the one between South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as individuals including Hon. Abla Dzifa Gomashie in Ghana, are working towards educating communities to understand menopause. It’s a step closer to combating the challenging experiences African women have with menopause – also highlighting the need for context-specific research and support. Research indicates 59% of South African survey respondents feel knowledgeable about menopause compared to 53% of the global average.

The multifaceted phenomenon of menopause deserves greater attention, particularly in the context of the workplace, as potential impacts can influence psychological wellbeing, professional productivity, and interpersonal dynamics.

It is therefore essential for organisations to be aware that their staff may be experiencing perimenopause and menopause, and foster inclusive and supportive work environments.

Furthermore, according to the World Economic Forum, “Women of menopausal age account for the fastest growth in the workforce – and they are staying in employment more than ever before”. Many women may have no or only mild symptoms, while others can experience severe and sometimes debilitating symptoms. These may include:

·  Hot flashes

·  Night sweats

·  Mood swings

·  Sleep disturbances

·  Low libido

·  Low self-esteem

·  Anxiety

·  Cognitive changes such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating  

Menopause in the Workplace: Challenges and Implications

The impact of menopause on some women’s professional lives can be disruptive. Persistent symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep disturbances can impact concentration and productivity, apart from the previously stated cognitive challenges, leading to decreased job performance, increased absenteeism and presenteeism. Moreover, mood swings and irritability may strain interpersonal relationships and contribute to workplace tension. Women navigating menopause may also face stigma, misconceptions, and a lack of awareness among colleagues and managers. This can create an environment where women feel uncomfortable discussing their experiences or seeking support, further exacerbating their challenges.

Supporting Colleagues Through Menopause

For individuals suffering symptoms, effective management of menopause involves a holistic approach encompassing nutrition, physical activity, mental health and wellbeing strategies. The process is ideally supported by one’s doctor to guide screening and testing, and for some, menopausal hormone therapy may be recommended.

Moreover, creating a supportive workplace environment is essential for facilitating open communication and fostering empathy towards colleagues navigating menopause.

Colleagues and managers can encourage an open dialogue to create a culture of empathy and understanding making the topic of menopause and women’s reproductive health less taboo. Offering more flexible work hours or hybrid/remote work options can also help accommodate fluctuating energy levels and the stress of commuting. While in the office, making resources available such as portable fans, water stations, and break rooms can be helpful, without singling any employees out. Promoting virtual or physical support groups along with employee assistance programmes is another strategy for improving employees’ mental and physical wellbeing.

It’s important to remember that menopause represents a significant life transition for over half the population that necessitates comprehensive support and understanding. By recognising the challenges women face in the workplace and implementing supportive policies and practices organisations can create inclusive environments where women feel valued, respected, heard, and empowered to manage their health and wellbeing effectively.

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