"We need to normalise the menstrual cycle."
Menopause is a natural biological process that happens to women.
For many Desi women, the experience can be daunting and lonely.
Within the South Asian community, there tends to be a stigma towards the health concerns of women.
The topic of menopause itself has historically been downplayed and the experiences of women going through it have often been overlooked.
DESIblitz speaks to South Asian women about their feelings approaching menopause.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is a stage in life that occurs to women as they get older where they experience sudden changes in hormone levels and their periods stop.
It is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years and is usually diagnosed once a woman goes 12 months without a period.
Menopause typically impacts women when they are between the ages of 45 to 55 but can happen earlier or later.
Symptoms of menopause differ depending on the individual.
However, common symptoms include hot flashes, fluctuating hormone levels, mood swings, decreased libido, and irregular sleep patterns.
In most instances, women tend to experience perimenopause which is the transitional phase that occurs leading up to menopause.
The symptoms of perimenopause are also similar to menopause symptoms but can vary from person to person.
Though menopause indicates the end of fertility, it does not deteriorate overall female health or well-being.
With adequate support, facilities and resources, women can navigate this important transition in their life with a sense of ease.
However, due to fear, stigma, a lack of understanding, and limited help from healthcare services, menopause becomes something that women find difficult to navigate.
Worries about Menopause
As with many health changes, women are bound to be concerned over the impending nature of said changes.
We spoke to Desi women who are expected to go through menopause soon.
Sukhjeet Kaur* said: “I do worry about menopause purely because I know very little about it, to be honest.
“It’s something that I’m trying to read up on and learn more about, whether that’s through books or my GP.
“But it’s something that concerns me because I just don’t know what to expect and it concerns my body and I know that when I do go through menopause, as much as I can talk to people about it, my experience will be unique.
“Hopefully, it doesn’t negatively impact my life drastically.”
Women like Sukhjeet are eager to educate themselves on the topic and learn about the symptoms they may face.
Harpreet Kaur* said: “I don’t necessarily worry about it daily however, as I’m approaching 50, it is something that I’m becoming increasingly aware of i.e., looking out for the signs.
“For some women, I know their experience has been somewhat debilitating, so I hope when I do start going through the change, it’s a slow process.
“Something that I can manage and doesn’t impact me on a day-to-day basis.
“I would describe myself as an active person with a healthy social life, so I’d like to maintain that even as I get older.
“I hope menopause doesn’t make me lose energy or have to cancel plans.”
These worries also extend to how others perceive or understand these changes.
Bena Lad* shared her worry over the wider societal perception of menopause:
“Worries that I have is the lack of understanding as people still don’t know the extent to which menopause can affect an individual.
“We are expected to carry on as normal or except that this is the situation.
“Even now doctors dismiss you and offer medication that might not be right.”
Support and Speaking Out
Whilst menopause is a universal experience for women across the world, support is often inadequate, causing them to bottle up their feelings rather than speak out.
Bena Lad* said: “Support is not easily accessible, and women get so distressed that they end up paying for treatment privately.
“We need to normalise the menstrual cycle and not make our girls/women hide it.
“I know it can be uncomfortable talking about it but this is only because we associate it with it being dirty.
“If we can get over that then normalising conversations around menopause will get easier.”
However, some women feel there is support but it is very limited.
Sheena Joshi* said: “Menopause is a topic you can speak openly about to a certain extent as it depends on whom you’re talking to especially in terms of generation and gender.
“I found I was more comfortable talking to people who are going through it themselves or have gone through menopause already as they have a better understanding of what I was going through.”
Sukhjeet Kaur* also feels support is there but that it is dependent on whom you talk to:
“I speak about it with my children because we’re very close.
“But I’ve never talked about it with my female friends because it just seems like a miserable topic.
“I imagine many women around a certain age kind of want to ignore it and prolong it as much as possible.
“For me, it’s a constant reminder that I’m getting older, and my body is shifting and I think my mind isn’t ready to accept that this is something I can’t avoid.”
Harpreet Kaur* finds menopause easier to speak about to people outside the South Asian community:
“I feel like I can speak about it openly with friends who are not South Asian.”
“They are very welcoming and open to discussion however, with my Indian friends, I think the conversation feels jarring to them and you can feel an attempt to move onto a different topic ASAP.”
Healthcare providers and community leaders need to play a more active role in supporting women approaching menopause.
Awareness in the South Asian Community
Despite being a natural process, menopause is a topic that is not widely discussed in the South Asian community.
This is due to various reasons, from the stigma surrounding discussing feminine topics to the lack of awareness within the community.
Sukhjeet Kaur* weighed in on why she doesn’t think menopause is discussed openly in South Asian communities:
“I don’t think there is enough awareness and education about menopause.
“I think because it concerns women, it’s not a priority for the community.
“We’re expected to just get on with things.
“I assume many people just don’t care and I think as it’s a change that affects older women, there’s even less need for the community to address it and raise awareness of it.”
The mentality that women’s needs aren’t a priority is a historically patriarchal viewpoint, however, it is one that unfortunately still exists.
Sheena Joshi* shared a similar sentiment to Sukhjeet:
“Awareness about menopause in the Desi community needs to be raised but I do feel there is a language barrier issue present that leads to women suffering in silence as opposed to talking openly about the topic.
“Many women like myself are made to feel isolated by this lack of awareness in the community as it leads to South Asian families unaware of how to help or support women going through menopause.”
Harpreet Kaur* also expressed her views surrounding the awareness and openness of menopause:
“I think as a whole there is a decent amount of conversation surrounding menopause however, the South Asian community does tend to shy away from talking about it.
“But that sentiment applies to many issues in our community.”
“It’s an uncomfortable conversation for many women and I do understand why we refrain from opening up about it.
“But ignoring it totally doesn’t help anyone, it only isolates women further and when my time comes, I’d hope that I can talk to my sisters and friends about it otherwise I’d feel isolated.”
Menopause is a topic that is widely overlooked but can evoke many concerns in women.
Though these concerns can often be universal, it is important to remember that every woman’s body is different.
As a whole, menopause requires greater attention and community awareness since it occurs to women daily yet many feel they cannot speak up about their experience.