Menopause affects around 50% of the world’s population, and ‘the change’ impacts every man with a woman in his life.
What’s surprising is that menopause is often either poorly understood or ignored, especially in the South Asian community. In 2018, the census showed that 13.8% of the UK population is from ethnic minority backgrounds, yet there is little research dedicated to the experience of the menopause in ethnic minority communities. Because of this, these women have come to believe that the menopause is a ‘white, middle class’ problem or a ‘Western phenomenon’. There are not enough women speaking about menopause in the public and representation means a lot.
Saj Fareed, a single mum with three children, is currently going through menopause and is suffering from all kinds of symptoms. She feels as a South Asian woman in particular the onus to just ‘put up and shut up’.
“Menopause is still a taboo in general, so it will feel doubly that in the South Asian community. I have started to talk more about it with my sister and mum and cousins. I think it’s not talked about as periods are not seen as a natural part of life, but something a bit dirty and unclean in the culture. So, menopause is seen as an extension of that”.
Fareed goes onto to say; “‘let’s be honest, it is still very much a patriarchal world – especially in the South Asian community – and it still doesn’t really value the rights of women or see us as equal. I have never heard my mum talk about it growing up and I know she had a hard time as she ended up having a hysterectomy quite early on. I’ve never heard anyone in my family ever talk about the menopause. It’s such a taboo anyway, but with the South Asian experience it is even more challenging. Let’s be real – if we don’t even talk much about periods then menopause has no chance.”
Dr Nighat Arif, GP WSI in Women’s Health has been raising awareness through TikTok videos in Punjabi and Urdu.
“In some subcontinental cultures, if a woman goes through the menopause early, there is considerable stigma attached to her infertility, as it’s viewed as a failure on the woman’s behalf. Her husband can then consider or even be encouraged in taking a second wife. For the women I see at grassroots level as a GP and in my own community, the menopause is simply not viewed as a medical condition. So, they will suffer the symptoms, sometimes for decades.
Let’s change the discussion and normalise it without it being a taboo subject, shrouded in secrecy and shame. It has already begun, and GPs – particularly from an ethnic background – must ensure it continues”.
Gurjit Maan wants the community to talk more, so her daughter doesn’t have to go through what she did.
“I didn’t know at the time that it was the perimenopause; I first noticed symptoms as soon as I turned 40. It started with fatigue, always feeling tired, needing to sleep during the day with a heavy head and palpitations. Mentally I questioned my own ability to parent, work and manage my home. I didn’t feel depressed, more despair! My mind felt chaotic, but even then, I didn’t talk to or tell anyone.”
Menopause and nutrition expert Meera Bhogal from Made From Scratch has been through menopause and wasn’t able to speak to anyone, so she started her own project in helping women have a voice – and through researching the South Asian communities, she has helped many women manage menopause in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Meera says, “there is a taboo around ALL women’s health in the South Asian community and there isn’t even a word for menopause, so of course it is never talked about. I have been told many times that menopause is a white person’s disease and Indians don’t get it – and even that we can’t talk about periods, so how can we talk about this! Most women genuinely don’t know what is happening to them. So, if women are not informed about this stage of life, and GPs are not educated about it under the current system, there can be no informed and factual discussion. GPs do not often get educated on menopause as part of their training, so they cannot join the dots and put the symptoms together”.
Professor, data scientist and author Pragaya Agarwal, author of the book (M)otherhood has shared her own experiences of menopause. “I went into early menopause in my 30s due to repeated IVF cycles and didn’t speak to anyone about it in the community. I had no idea why I was angry, in pain, or what help to ask for. Empowering women with more knowledge and information will help them make better choices and decisions of course, but does society really want this? Women have been silenced for a long time with such language creating the impression that they are over-reacting, and so their concerns cannot be seen as valid”.
Lavina Mehta MBE, founder of Feel Good with Lavina, has been bravely sharing her personal journey through the perimenopause openly on her Instagram page in the hope that it helps to change the narrative, break the taboos and get us all sharing, talking and seeking help.
“Perimenopause can start up to 10 years before the menopause but latest research is indicating that the menopause could be earlier for South Asian women (with 51 being the average age), so if you’re in your mid-30s please be aware of the symptoms and seek help. It is devastating to hear how many women quit their job, marriages break up and can become suicidal. Let’s start normalising the conversation in our South Asian communities.”
Menopause still isn’t spoken about enough in the South Asian community and there isn’t even a word for it in Punjabi. There needs to be more discussions and more representation out there to these communities.
If we hear and see more South Asian women come forward to share their experiences and lead the way to freely speak about the subject, slowly things will start to change the way menopause is seen by the community and should no longer be viewed as a taboo.
Every woman is going to go through this and every man should understand how to support their wives and partners, because it’s only when we are educated can we start to understand what many women go through and how difficult it is in a South Asian community to feel silenced.
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