Amid concern that middle-aged women were being pushed out of the workplace because employers did not support those struggling with symptoms, campaigners had called for menopause to be made a protected characteristic in the same way as religion or race.
Last summer, warning that the UK was "haemorrhaging talent" because of a failure to support women in midlife, the Commons women and equalities committee called for radical changes in discrimination laws. The cross-party group of MPs also called for "menopause leave" for those suffering from the most debilitating symptoms, which can include anxiety, mood changes, hot flushes and insomnia.
However, the Government has now rejected many of its calls, suggesting that such changes could discriminate against men. MPs accused ministers of making "glacial progress" in their efforts to support women and said the rejection made no sense.
The chairman of the women and equalities committee, Caroline Nokes said: "This belated response to our report is a missed opportunity to protect vast numbers of talented and experienced women from leaving the workforce, and leaves me unconvinced that menopause is a government priority".
She further commented, "For too long women have faced stigma, shame and dismissive attitudes when it comes to menopause. The evidence to our inquiry was crystal clear: that urgent action was needed across healthcare and work settings to properly address women's needs. Yet government progress has been glacial and its response complacent. Its refusal to even consult on reforming equalities law doesn't make sense and we urge it to look again," Ms Nokes added.
The government response suggests that women who suffer "substantial and longer-term menopausal effects" are already protected under age, sex and discrimination laws. It says making menopause a specific characteristic could "inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering long-term medical conditions".
The response also suggests that any protection born from a combination of two protected characteristics – such as age and sex – could mean that another 20 "dual protected" characteristics, such as race and sexual orientation, would need to be created.
A government spokesman said: "We recognise that menopause can be a challenging time for women, which is why we have put women's health at the top of the agenda as part of the first-ever Women's Health Strategy for England."
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