It’s May 28, 2023: International Menstrual Hygiene Day. Still to this day, millions don´t have access to products that ensure proper menstrual health. This is compounded by stigmas, misinformation, and insufficient or inadequate infrastructure.
The taboos associated with this natural process cause many girls to miss up to 5 days of school each month. Recently, several countries have made progress in legislation and programs that contribute to menstrual management. Some advancements include tax exemptions for sanitary products and awareness campaigns. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) also contributes positively by improving water and sanitation systems, which are essential for proper menstrual hygiene.
However, menstruation is not the only stage that menstruating individuals will experience: anyone with the capacity to menstruate will eventually stop. It is likely that they will reach this day without useful tools and information.
That is why I want to focus on this aspect, which is talked about much less: the process towards menopause or perimenopause. Just like the onset of menstruation, this stage not only brings about biological changes but also social changes. And, similar to menstruation, menopause carries many associated taboos that are detrimental to quality of life.
An Issue that Involves Us All
According to data from the organization No Pausa, by 2025, 37 million people in Latin America will be going through menopause. The majority of them will experience it between the ages of 45 and 55. Considering that the population of Latin America and the Caribbean is rapidly aging, this number will continue to grow in the coming decades.
According to the British Menopause Society, the health of 75% of those going through menopause is affected by symptoms. Among them, 25% face severe symptoms. It has also been identified that these symptoms can last an average of 7 years, and 1 in 3 women experiences symptoms for even longer. Some studies have found that when these symptoms are very bothersome or intense, they have negative impacts on career trajectories. This is especially true in the case of psychological symptoms.
These impacts range from increased work absenteeism, reduced working hours, and lower likelihood of promotion, to leaving work altogether. For example, a study published in 2022 found that for women aged 50 or older who work full-time, each menopausal symptom reduces the employment rate by half a percentage point.
Menopause and Economic Development, Do They Relate?
These studies demonstrate that the answer is yes. Just as improper management of menstruation can hinder the educational development of many girls, the transition to menopause can negatively impact one’s work life. It is not the stages themselves but the absence of public policies that facilitate the passage through them, which translates into obstacles for countries and individuals:
In the short term, those who decide to leave the labor market due to severe symptoms lose their income. Formally employed individuals also lose benefits such as health insurance, retirement contributions, and paid medical leave or vacations.
In the long term, they will have lower pensions due to contributing fewer years to the system. In the case of many women, this adds to the years they dedicated exclusively to unpaid caregiving. This labor intermittency increases their dependence on their partners’ income or non-contributory pensions. As a result, they end up in a more vulnerable situation with a higher likelihood of falling into poverty during old age.
Today, organizations can reduce and prevent work absenteeism, the need to replace already trained personnel and early retirement. How? By taking into account the menstrual health of their members in a holistic manner.
3 Actions to Change the Landscape
Inspired by the action plan being implemented in the United Kingdom, I share some key points that can work in our region:
- Generate data. The research mentioned in this blog has been conducted outside of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are no regional data on the impact of severe perimenopausal symptoms on the labor market.
- More inclusive work environments. Organizations, especially Human Resources departments, need to be better trained on menopause and perimenopause. This knowledge will enable them to design policies and actions that support individuals in this stage. They can also negotiate with health insurance companies to have their healthcare plans cover treatments that can alleviate symptoms.
- Disseminate information. It is essential to put the topic on the agenda, disseminate information about it, explore ways to alleviate symptoms, and raise awareness beyond those directly affected. Some regional organizations such as No Pausa and Miah are working on this.
- Strengthen more healthcare professionals on the subject. It is crucial for healthcare professionals to have more tools and information about menopausal symptoms, especially those working in public health centers, to support individuals going through menopause properly and refer them to specialists.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it is a starting point. Following the motto “Make menstruation a normal part of life by 2030,” we invite you to make this topic increasingly present in government discussions and organizational agendas.