Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
Nigerian women, just like women everywhere else on the planet, will go through menopause provided that they live long enough to do so. Is menopause a similar experience for women no matter where they live? Do cultural differences matter? How do women deal with and feel about menopause? New studies being conducted around the world show the interesting differences and similarities among menopausal women, and may help us understand and change prevailing attitudes about menopause.
Nigeria has a population of around 108 million people, and as is the case in many African countries, Nigeria’s population tends to be quite young. It is worth noting that the average life expectancy in 2009 was 47.76 years* which is nearly half of that in many of the more developed countries. But despite this grim statistic, women do experience menopause. In a recent study, 402 Nigerian women were surveyed by medical experts to determine menopausal ages, symptoms, and attitudes. Among some of the more interesting findings:
Average age of menopausal women in Nigeria was 49. This is slightly lower than the typical age of 51 for many North American, Australian, and Western European women. The study looked for any links between a woman’s socio-economic situation and menopausal age. Women, who entered menopause at earlier ages tended to have lower levels of education, were unmarried and did not have a first child until after the age of 30. One surprising note was that the age when a woman began having her period did not seem to be a significant factor related to menopausal age.
Nigerian women discussed having many of the usual menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, fatigue, aching joints, irritability, anxiety and memory loss. According to this study, 25% of the women polled had a positive attitude towards menopause, especially due to the end of having monthly menstrual periods. 70% were concerned that there were losing their femininity which is familiar to attitudes of women elsewhere. Interestingly, the professional women were almost unanimous in having a negative attitude towards menopause. One other key note was that only about 25% of women in Nigeria sought medical treatment for their menopausal symptoms.
Women in Nigeria are still largely regarded for their nurturing roles as wives and mothers. Many of these women face economic hardship and struggle to look after their families. This may help explain why the average age for menopause has risen since the Industrial Revolution. As women live longer, tend to have their first children later, and experience better living conditions, life expectancies and menopausal ages are later than previous generations. But aside from the numbers, what does menopause mean to women in Nigeria?
Professional women in Nigeria share the same concerns as other career-women. Because menopause occurs when many women are in their peak earning years, the fears of being unable to function on the job and being replaced by younger talent are very real. Women also tend to see the end of their reproductive years as the end of their ‘femaleness’ and hope to fill the void caused by the empty-nest with other types of fulfilling pursuits. Unfortunately, many Western societies favour youth over age and getting older is seen as a progression of loss rather than gain.
Even with a small percentage of Nigerian women employed as professionals, the Western export of societal attitudes is slowly adding to menopausal attitudes in Nigeria. For many Nigerian women, no longer being able to bear children causes fears of being abandoned by their husbands for younger women. Another lamentable component of the Western lifestyle is that younger generations no longer share living quarters with elders. It seems at least in the more urban areas in Nigeria this trend is catching on, leaving women feeling more anxious about their roles in society. Women, regardless of their roles, are worried that menopause might mean the end of being useful and productive members of their communities.
Judging from the ways women must cope with very difficult circumstances associated with living in Nigeria, menopause is another burden women must cope with. As the study shows, very few women seek out treatment for their menopausal symptoms. In addition to limited facilities, are these women afraid to seek help for fear of ridicule or scorn? Just as women in more developed nations have long struggled to have their menopausal concerns taken seriously, Nigerian women must cope with stubborn social views about women.
Many women around the world will recognize the similarities between themselves and their Nigerian sisters when it comes to menopause. It is tempting to view a Nigerian woman’s experience as something far removed from another woman’s ordeal with menopause. But women everywhere must strive to help educate themselves and healthcare professionals when it comes to menopause. If prevailing attitudes within societies are factors in menopause, then it is time to toss away the stereotypes and myths in favour of treating menopause as a naturally occurring phase that does not end a woman’s life.
Information for this article was based on the following:
Ozumba BC, Obi SN, Obikili E, Waboso P, Age, Symptoms, and Perception of Menopause Among Nigerian Women, Department of obstetrics and Gynaecology University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, Nigeria, 2004.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You