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South Asian women, menopause and opening up the conversation

by Meera Bhogal

I am passionate about working to improve the health and wellbeing of others during menopause. In fact, I’ve built a whole business doing just that, inspired by overcoming debilitating symptoms during my own journey. Yet, as a South Asian woman, I don’t see anyone that looks like me talking about menopause and that makes me feel very alone. 

Menopause is getting attention for the first time but where are all the prominent South Asian women within the menopause conversation? I just don’t have a role model in the sense of another South Asian woman going through menopause who can share their experiences while also immersed in Indian culture.

We are there, but there is silence when it comes to speaking up about menopause, South Asian women and what’s needed.”

Menopause, South Asian women and barriers

Your body is changing and it is like the reverse of puberty. I want to get the message across to South Asian women that you’ve got to be the fittest and healthiest you can for your body, whether you are on HRT or not. Don’t leave it any longer to look after yourself.

Ten months ago, I started supporting South Asian women with programmes to improve their sleep, physical strength and nutrition. The women coming to me now are predominantly South Asian because they can relate to me. They are comfortable that I understand Indian culture and why they can’t talk to their peers and family about menopause. Slowly we break down the barriers together when it comes to South Asian women, menopause and how to improve our health.

Menopause is not a white person’s disease

Menopause just isn’t talked about in the South Asian community and there isn’t even a word for it in Punjabi. I’ve often been told that menopause is a myth and that it is a white person’s disease. I have no idea where this comes from but I ask myself whether this is because the people shouting about menopause are not looking like them? 

I’m used to putting myself out there to champion women in my community. I’ve always been headstrong, stubborn and will push the boundaries if I have to. For many South Asian women, finding a voice is difficult as, generically, they have a definite place – to look after the house and make sure everyone’s needs are met. This is how it is even for those in high-powered full-time jobs, let alone women who can’t speak or write English. 

So many women come to me for help with a fat loss journey but they all fall into a pattern of perimenopause symptoms. Often they are just a shell of themselves with low self-esteem, feel crazy and have lost who they are. Many have been to the doctor and been offered antidepressants.

Find out more about menopause symptoms with our symptoms library.

Historic HRT confusion

Many within my community are scared of HRT and believe it is bad for you and derived from horse urine. In fact, I was part of a panel featuring South Asian women on a webinar when someone said: “HRT should be your last resort but if you are suicidal then of course go for HRT.” 

I couldn’t believe it and replied: “While I agree that herbs and natural methods can help, please don’t wait until you are suicidal to take HRT! That is wrong! HRT can help you and it is so different today. They have created hormones that mimic actual human hormones. The doses are different and the way it is applied is different and it can be life-changing. So don’t do either, or.” 

Menopause literature needed for South Asian women

We need to get representation and support out into the communities. Menopause literature is needed in different languages and doctors need training. They may not understand what the woman is trying to say and the woman may not have the words to describe what she is going through. This is why I am so keen to work with anyone who will change the face of menopause to include all women.

Now I get to see women leaving my programmes standing straighter and saying to their husbands and kids to sort themselves out. There’s nothing better than seeing other South Asian women going through menopause challenges and coming out the other side empowered.

Read more about menopause on our blog.