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Talking openly and honestly about menopause


Antonia Watson

ANZ New Zealand CEO

ANZ New Zealand CEO Antonia Watson writes that younger generations are leading the charge when it comes to being body positive and what it means to be a woman. So what can we learn from them?


Women’s health and well-being around the things that make us who we are – periods, hormones, menopause (and who knew there was perimenopause as a warm up) – are rarely talked about.


They are all deeply personal experiences, can be embarrassing and can make others feel uncomfortable.


As a result, girls and young and middle-aged women often struggle through parts of their lives without realising why they feel as they do, or what is happening to their bodies.


Younger generations are leading the charge when it comes to owning their bodies and what it means to be body positive. And thank goodness for that, I say.


They are much more comfortable talking about these issues and with this comes positive change in our society.


A whole movement was created around period poverty, raising awareness around the important issue of young people missing out on school because they couldn’t afford sanitary products.


Now every school in New Zealand is stocked with free sanitary items.

"As society changes we’re also learning we need to be open to different views and perspectives and a broader discussion around gender."
- ANZ New Zealand CEO Antonia Watson



A more inclusive approach de-stigmatises menstruation without shutting anyone out.


There is a whole industry that has grown out of this – period underwear, swimwear, and menstrual cups – which is fantastic to see.


As with many things younger generations are taking the lead on, this innovation is better for the planet as well.


I read somewhere that sanitary items can take up to 400 years to break down in a landfill – so the very first tampon or pad created could still be out there somewhere!


For people like me who grew up stuffing tampons up our sleeves and sneaking to the bathroom at school or making up excuses about why we couldn’t play sport or go swimming this new attitude is a revelation.


All this has made me think about why my generation isn’t more open about our health, particularly menopause.


As a 51-year-old woman this is something that’s relevant to me and many of the women around me - friends, family and colleagues.


Women make up 62.8% of our workforce. But in New Zealand, despite a number of high profile women in executive roles, menopause is a topic I rarely hear talked about openly in the business community.


A good example is perimenopause – who knew there was a warm up to the actual event? It can hit women as early as 40, and the cliché ‘hot flushes’ does not even begin to cover the side effects some will experience.


Crippling anxiety, self-doubt, depression, insomnia, mood changes, brain fog and irregular periods can all be part of perimenopause and menopause.


This often happens just as women reach the stage in their career when they move into executive or senior roles or are looking to re-enter the workforce after raising a family.


Many women battle through this stage in life without the knowledge that this is something that is happening to their body and that it’s not a failure on their part, a sign they can’t do the job, or handle life at this pace, and that they can do something about it.


While everyone has a unique story, the issue is one all women will experience and have to deal with at some point in their lives.


More research, greater understanding, better allocation of funding for health services and support would make life easier for everyone.


Let’s follow the lead of our young women who are changing attitudes and society for the better.


Older generations of women like me should also help grow awareness and acceptance of this normal part of ageing.


It takes courage to speak up. I know many women of my generation worry that admitting they aren’t functioning as they always were could be seen as a weakness and be detrimental to their careers.


We need to remove that stigma attached to menopause and ensure it is not a barrier to success.


Monday 18th October is World Menopause Day – the purpose is to raise awareness of menopause and the support options available for improving health and well-being.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz.



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