Courts and tribunals: the end of menopause invisibility ?
When a reality such as menopause is perceived as taboo, women end up being subjected to a double penalty.
Not only do they experience overwhelmingly the inconvenience of symptoms affecting daily life, such as the famous hot flashes, but the associated taboo adds additional stress to social situations by limiting their ability to express what they are experiencing and implicitly intimating, to paraphrase Molière1, to « cover up this symptom that society can’t endure to look on. »
In 2020 French television broadcast a documentary by Joëlle Oosterlinck and Blandine Grosjean, « Ménopausées ». Author of the documentary, Blandine Grosjean said at the time: « I was inspired to make this documentary when a woman leader of the economic world, who had seen my previous film, Sex without consent, told me that there was another taboo that should to be approached, the menopause. What she had to live in secrecy, in shame, made her angry. And it touched me, alerted me. Yet when I contacted her again, she refused to testify. »
How many are these women who have internalized this imperative of an invisible menopause?
So when on February 24 the UK Judicial College published its new edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book (ETBB) where, for the first time, recommendations appeared for taking menopause symptoms into account, it was a real cause for celebration.
The ETBB offers guidance aimed at combating discrimination, it is intended not only for judges but for all judicial officers. It aims to promote awareness and understanding of the different circumstances of people appearing in courts and tribunals be it as parties, witnesses or jurors
The revised ETBB helps judges understand menopause and its impact on women, and offers a series of recommendations.
The ETBB reminds them that menopause often remains a taboo subject at work and that women who mention it often are met with embarrassment, ignorance, inappropriate humor or even hostility2.
It describes some of the most common symptoms (hot flashes, urinary problems, heavy periods, sleep disturbance, fatigue, headaches …) and recommends making sure that the room has working air conditioning or the possibility of opening the windows.
It also recommends ensuring easy access to toilet facilities and taking frequent breaks.
Finally, the ETBB recommends that judges be attentive to signs of discomfort, because women may suffer in silence, feeling too embarrassed to ask the court for adjustments to relieve their symptoms3.
Coming less than two weeks before International Women’s Day, this publication is a welcome and concrete step towards ending « menopause invisibility ».
Are you interested in the experiences of women at different stages of their menopause? Would you like a reminder of the physiology of menopause and the main symptoms? Download our free ebook, Menopause Story(ies).
1: see Tartuffe, Act III, Scene II
2: source: Equal Treatment Bench Book February 2021, p171.
3: source: ibid., p 172