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Menopause in India and the IMS

Health issues in India are always on a large scale and menopause is no exception. As one of the world’s most populated countries, India faces a variety of challenges dealing with menopause for several decades to come. As we all watch the latest developments taking place in India, we understand why women’s health care issues affect all women everywhere.

Menopause in India
India’s population currently sits just over 1 billion. The number of menopausal women comes in around 43 million and would include women between the ages of 40 to 60. Moreover the population of both men and women over 60 is 71 million. The sheer size of these figures indicates the necessity of implementing menopause education within India. At the same time, what happens in India could very well impact women in developed and developing countries.

For women in India the average age of menopause is 47.5 years which is slightly younger than the standard North American benchmark of age 51. Life expectancy is improving in India with an average life expectancy for women of 71 years. Indian women will on average live just over 20 years once menopause is finished, or during the postmenopausal phase.

The Indian Menopause Society
Started in 1995 the Indian Menopause Society (IMS) has been working to increase awareness of women’s health in both the medical and social communities. Just like its European and North American counterparts the IMS began with the goal of educating women and their healthcare providers about menopause. But the path to awareness is not always a smooth one. The IMS faces a complexity of hurdles that women elsewhere are familiar with but some challenges are unique to the social fabric of India.

For the better part of the 20th century, North American and European women faced the stigmas of aging and menopause as well as a lack of understanding on the part of the medical community. Fortunately attitudes towards the aging process and menopausal women have evolved but it was not so long ago that mid-life women were considered hysterical, old, and past their usefulness. These same viewpoints stubbornly exist in a patriarchal society like that found in India. Women in India also face some very unique social obstacles.

*India has a deep divide between the educated and uneducated. Despite one of the largest percentages of post-secondary degree holders in the world, India also has one of the highest illiteracy rates especially for women (54.16% based on the 2001 census). Women with lower levels of education and literacy generally lack access to and knowledge of medical information and medical assistance.

*India’s population is largely rural based (72%) making it very difficult if not impossible for women to seek out medical care. Just as women in rural America find it challenging to access quality medical facilities, women in rural India also face an uphill battle to be seen and heard. Women in India’s cities fare slightly better in that they are closer to some of the most modern hospitals and clinics but many women are too poor to take advantage.

*India is a nation of extreme poverty and there is a strong link between health and wealth. Nearly 38 million people live in abject poverty or being unable to afford basic food, clothing and shelter. Again poorer women either do not live near medical facilities or are unable to gain access to healthcare professionals.

*Indian women must deal with a very patriarchal society. Women’s issues are rarely if ever heard and money is considered better spent on the productive members of society; the men. Women are taught to remain silent and are usually forced to remain in the home or work very close to it. Topics that were once forbidden in Western society: menstruation, reproduction, and health matters including menopause are still not discussed. As a result, women’s health issues are given little attention and hardly any funding.

Changing menopause attitudes in India
The IMS faces an enormous challenge but this organization is committed to breaking down the cultural and social barriers that have prevented women from getting adequate medical help. It was not so long ago that North American and European women were relegated to menopausal stereotypes and it took decades of work to bring menopause out into the open.

Now women around the world have the same opportunity to learn about what impacts menopause has on their lives. We all need to keep working at improving attitudes towards aging and menopause. The time has come to improve women’s lives everywhere and remember that menopause does not discriminate. Neither should we.

The Indian Menopause Society (IMS) continues its important work and was the basis for the research conducted for this article. Check out their site at www.indianmenopausesociety.org

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