Women’s experience of menopause is highly influenced by cultural attitudes and beliefs towards menopause and menopausal symptoms, as well as socioeconomic and lifestyle factors. A comparison of the menopausal experiences of several ethnic groups reveals some enlightening and interesting differences.
Menopause and its accompanying symptoms tend to be highly medicalised in the Western world. However, this time of life should be viewed as an important opportunity for self-care and perhaps a change in lifestyle habits that are no longer useful or health-enhancing.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), menopause or juejing is regarded as a natural part of the ageing process and is seen as a deficiency of kidney yin, which requires balancing and nourishment with food and herbs.
The Japanese have no equivalent word for the phrase ‘hot flush’, and the word to describe menopause is ‘konenki’ which is not a direct translation, but a word made up of three parts reflecting energy, regeneration, and renewal. In Japan this ‘time of life’ is about transition and a new purpose, rather than being associated with loss or fear as it so commonly is in Western culture.
In Islamic, Indian, and most African societies, postmenopausal women may enjoy greater social freedom as they no longer have to observe strict gender roles.
The Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine ‘views menopause not as a disease but as a transition period. It is a very important time in a woman's life where she has an opportunity to prioritise care for her health and wellbeing in all aspects – physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually.’
Native American women do not have a single word for menopause and regard the menopausal transition as a neutral or positive experience, considering postmenopausal women to be ‘women of wisdom’.
Generally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women consider “menopause” to be a European word. Research demonstrates they tend to be more comfortable with “Change of Life” or “The Change” indicating their recognition of menopause as a ‘natural’ life transition, in which biological assistance or intervention may not be desired.
The change was described by one postmenopausal woman as “a process of ageing, like a ring around a tree”. There is no specific indigenous language term or phrase for menopause, and it appears not to be a culturally significant event. However, women do gain greater status with their menopausal transition.
Mayan Indian women from Mexico experience very strict boundaries and taboos around food and activity whilst they are menstruating.
Menopause therefore allows them greater freedom and is thus often positively awaited.
Disclaimer: these findings are not intended to be generalised to all women of the cultures mentioned in recognition of the considerable diversity within these populations.