As an MP, when you’re given a responsible role (arguably all minister roles are responsible, we get that), you’re expected, by the voting public, to take that role very seriously. Which is why we’re so shocked to hear that one such minister has dismissed calls for the menopause to be given a special legally protected status.
And the MP in question? Kemi Badenoch – the (female) minister for none other than… equalities.
It truly beggars’ belief especially given that Kemi Badenoch is in her early 40s, the age when she can be expected to begin experiencing the symptoms of the perimenopause in the next few years, if not already.
Her views were in response to a call by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee to consult on adding the menopause to the Equality Act list. The committee argue that it should become the law that female employees in the workplace have the right to request things that will help their symptoms, such as a change in uniform and access to desk fans, cold drinking water and bathrooms.
They should also be allowed to request more breaks or flexible working hours that fit in better with symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, as well as paid leave for doctors’ appointments.
Under these proposals by Labour, menopausal women will be better able to help themselves as well as be less likely to leavethe workforce. If Labour come to power, they will require all workplaces with more than 250 employees to “compile annual Menopause Action Plans setting out how they are supporting their female staff”.
But in a heated exchange in the Commons with Labours Carolyn Harris MP, Kemi Badenoch likened the menopause to being ginger or short.
She argued that women could already make use of anti-discrimination measures based on age, sex and disability, saying, “The menopause [is] on a long list of characteristics that campaigners had claimed should be written into the Equality Act, including having ginger hair or being short”.
“We have so many things that people ask for, for protected characteristics – carers, single people, having ginger hair, being short, all sorts of all sorts of things that people ask for as protected characteristics.”
“Creating a new special characteristic for the menopause is a complete misunderstanding of what protected characteristics are, they are immutable characteristics, we have nine of them that cover everyone.”
“The menopause can be dealt with, alongside three existing ones: age, sex, and disability, because it is a health condition and many disabilities are health conditions.”
But Carolyn Harris disagreed, saying, “I think your commitment to women has been displayed quite adequately this afternoon”.
To which Badenoch replied, “We are free to have disagreements on how to deal with the menopause, but that in and of itself is not a display of my commitment to women. I think women know exactly how committed I am to women’s rights”.
“The menopause is a condition that all women will go through at a particular age, so the menopause is not a disability. However, a particular woman’s experience of the menopause, which can be a health condition, can be so extreme as to qualify for a disability.”
We completely agree, Kemi, so why are you so against making it a protected characteristic?
Hundreds of businesses have already made commitments to supporting their employees through the menopause, which we’re so glad to hear about as yes, menopause can bring with it debilitating symptoms. More of the same please, regardless of unsupportive MPs!