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Updated Jan 24, 2023

Menopause law change rejected as it could "discriminate against men"

Proposals to change UK legislation to protect the rights of those experiencing menopause have been in part rejected by the government due to fears this would discriminate against men.

The cross-party women and equalities committee last July published a report focusing on menopause and the workplace, including a recommendation to make menopause a "protected characteristic" under the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act 2010

Under the 2010 Act:

  • the protected characteristics are a specific set of characteristics that it is illegal to discriminate against, including:
    • age,
    • gender reassignment,
    • being married or in a civil partnership,
    • being pregnant or on maternity leave,
    • disability,
    • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin,
    • religion or belief,
    • sex,
    • sexual orientation;
  • you are protected from discrimination:
    • at work,
    • in education,
    • as a consumer,
    • when using public services,
    • when buying or renting property,
    • as a member or guest of a private club or association.

The government response

In its official response to the report, published on Tuesday 24 January, the government rejected the proposal, warning of "unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions".

In the response the government also rejected calls for a large-scale pilot of menopause leave in England, adding it was not seen as "necessary" and could turn out to be "counterproductive".

A government spokesperson said: "We recognise that the menopause can be a challenging time for women, which is why we have put women’s health at the top of the agenda as part of the first-ever women’s health strategy for England".

"We are implementing an ambitious programme of work with the NHS to improve menopause care so all women can access the support they need".

"We encourage employers to be compassionate and flexible to the needs of their employees, and are committed to supporting more flexible working patterns – having consulted on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to".

Reaction to the government response

Conservative MP, Caroline Nokes, who was the committee chair, questioned the governments commitment to the issue of menopause.

In a letter to the Health Minister Maria Caulfield, Nokes said she was disappointed that "very little new work has been committed to by the government" and expressed concern that the government had ignored the significant evidence base for menopause being seen as a protected characteristic.

Nokes also noted that the government response was three and a half months late and said it was a "missed opportunity to protect vast numbers of talented and experienced women leaving the workforce, and leaves me unconvinced that menopause is a government priority".

"The evidence to our inquiry was crystal clear that urgent action was needed across healthcare and work settings to properly address women’s needs, yet government progress has been glacial and its response complacent".

"Its refusal to even consult on reforming equalities law doesn’t make sense and we urge it to look again".

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