Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 15, 2023



The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:29): One of the campaigns I am most proud of having worked on in this place with my colleague Irene Pnevmatikos was, and continues to be, the period poverty campaign. Today, I wish to speak about another overwhelmingly neglected group in our South Australian community and hope that this will be the first of many opportunities to shine the spotlight on women who are experiencing the sometimes debilitating effects of menopause. In so doing, I acknowledge that the Greens at a federal level have stolen my thunder and moved for an inquiry, but, in any event, I am pleased that that inquiry has been secured in the federal parliament and that there now will be an inquiry into menopause and perimenopause.

As a woman nears the end of childbearing years, she produces less oestrogen and progesterone causing changes in her menstrual cycle. It is a natural ageing process causing egg production to eventually stop. For those who are interested, the word menopause actually comes from the Greek words 'mens' meaning month and 'pausis' meaning cessation, so it actually has nothing to do with males.

The average age of a woman to go through menopause is 51, with most women falling between the ages of 45 and 55. Premature menopause in women under 40 affects about one in 100, whilst early menopause, between 40 and 45, affects about five in 100.

Menopause is something that receives very little attention. Women are expected to, and indeed do, suffer in silence. They soldier on without having much in terms of support around symptoms. Women are expected to deal with those symptoms, physical and emotional. They include hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue, anxiety, heart palpitations, dizziness, memory loss, joint pains, sleep disorders, mood swings, low libido, hair loss, bloating, itchy skin and weight gain, and the list, as many of us nearing that age would know, goes on and on.

Not all women experience menopause symptoms, but it is thought about 80 per cent do. Symptoms can be mild to severe and generally last between five and 10 years. For the lucky ones, there can be mild or no symptoms. For those who are on the severe end, it can significantly impact the quality of a woman's life. The effects can be debilitating and require medical interventions, including hormone replacement therapies. It can impact employment, relationships, families, mental health and everyday functioning. There are also long-term effects caused by the decrease in female hormones, such as osteoporosis.

I did have a motion to deal with menopause here in state parliament. I have put that on pause—pardon the pun—given what is happening at the federal level, but it is something that I intend to raise in this place as the feds progress through that inquiry.

It is time to address the stigma and have a real and open conversation about menopause, just as we have done in this place around periods and period poverty; in fact, it is well overdue. There is a need to increase our knowledge and awareness about this important women's health issue, to look at funding and support models, and to explore the impacts on workplaces and the economy more broadly. One of the single most neglected groups in South Australia are women who experience menopause.

We also need to speak about gaslighting when it comes to women's bodies. They need to know when their pain or symptoms are normal and when they are not and not be left to rely on Dr Google. There are also subgroups of women who we should be looking at when it comes to menopause. There are vulnerable groups who have unique challenges: women in prison, regional and socially disadvantaged groups and our Indigenous women. This is an issue that is neglected by us as a health issue and a state issue.

I know that everyone in here learnt a lot about periods and period poverty as a result of the campaign that is ongoing and there are amazing people doing amazing things in the background on that. It is my intention to make sure that we all know everything there is to know about menopause until we get some traction and movement on that front.