Keynote Address by Penny Junor, Patron Women’s Health Concern to the European Menopause and Andropause Congress, ExCeL Centre, London, 16-20 May 2009

Penny Junor, patron of Women’s Health Concern, gave the keynote address at the opening ceremony of the European Menopause and Andropause Society‘s triennial congress held in London and hosted by the British Menopause Society.

Her upbeat message to 1,450 gynaecologists and other specialists from 73 countries is shown below. We suggest it should be required reading for GPs, practice nurses and every woman approaching the menopause – and her husband, partner and family!

Penny Junor’s address in full:

I feel very privileged to be one of the people welcoming you here today – and for once in my life, very well qualified to be standing on a podium. I may not be a doctor – or know the first thing about medicine – but as you can no doubt guess by the colour of my hair – and the fact that I am a woman – I do know a bit about the menopause.

And I do know how terribly important it is for women like me, that people like you should be meeting and discussing ways of improving the quality of our lives during what can be some very horrible years. So thank you on behalf of women all over the world, for being here and for doing the jobs you do.

Just this week I discovered that the Arabic word for the menopause (which I shan’t attempt to give you) translates as ‘The Age of Hopelessness.’

I think it’s time they found a new word. There is nothing hopeless about being over fifty these days.

My husband used to say that when I reached fifty he would trade me in for two twenty-five year olds; now he’s saying it’s going to be two thirty year olds when I hit sixty. Let him try!

Believe me; apart from the fact that a stranger seems to be looking out at me from the mirror every time I look at it, life is just beginning.

But it isn’t for every woman of my age. Some people go through hell and as well as the physical discomforts they lose all confidence in themselves and their abilities and their desirability – that is almost worse than the sodden bedclothes and hot flushes.

I never cease to be amazed that women’s health should be such a neglected area of medicine – in Britain at least. And having been patron of Women’s Health Concern, a small charity that helps and advises women who don’t get the information they need from their doctors, I know just how poor it is. Women’s health and their management of the menopause in particular, should be a priority.

Women of a certain age are vital to our society – as carers, as mothers and grandmothers, as wives, and as workers. We represent a huge proportion of the population and without good advice and sympathetic handling by the health professionals; the menopause can put us completely out of action – or make us grumpy and unliveable with – for most of those years.

My GP summed it up nicely. He was trying to persuade me to go on to HRT and I was refusing, having decided to use homeopathy instead – which, incidentally, I did very successfully.

‘I really think you should reconsider,’ he said. ‘The fact is that women are not designed to live beyond the menopause!’

Well, maybe we weren’t but the fact is that now, in the 21st century, we do! And with the right information, the right attitude, the right diet, and plenty of exercise, women in their fifties, can, should and many of us do feel that we are entering a golden age.

Our children are grown up, we can work, we can travel, we can fall in love, we can have sex without the fear of becoming pregnant – we can do anything and everything.

And as Camilla Parker Bowles proved to the world, we can even marry a royal prince, and become something of a role model. On her first trip to America with the Prince of Wales the press nicknamed her Frump Towers; by the end of the tour they were saying how dignified she was, and how refreshing to see a woman who dressed her age and who hadn’t felt the need to have her face Botoxed and her body remodelled. As Angelica Huston said, ‘I totally admire that lady. She gives hope to all us would-be scarlet women and she certainly gives encouragement to all women over 50.’

When Queen Elizabeth was nearing her sixtieth birthday, her then Press Secretary rang his boss from the intercom on his desk at Buckingham Palace and told her that Queen Juliana of the Netherlands had just abdicated. Juliana was 71 and had been on the throne for 32 years. ‘Typical Dutch’ said the Queen disparagingly and hung up on him. That was nearly twenty-five years ago. She is now eighty-three and no one has been brave enough to drop any hints of that nature since. And quite right. She is as fit as a flea and working as hard as ever.

My sister-in-law is Prue Leith, who until she hit fifty five was a very successful businesswoman, restaurateur, caterer and cookery writer. After the menopause, high on HRT, she went into overdrive. She sold her business – Leith’s Good Food, which I believe is catering the supper you will be eating this evening – and began a whole new career as a novelist, broadcaster and charity worker. She has written five novels, she is one of the judges on a very popular programme in the UK called The Great British Menu and, as Chairman of the School Food Trust, is busy putting healthy food into school dinners. Next birthday she will be 70 and she has more energy than is decent.

One of my grandmothers at the same age sat and knitted socks; the other sat and crocheted table mats. Neither of them worked, neither of them travelled or had any ambition to do anything further with their lives – because that is the way it was fifty years ago.

Next month I am going to be a grandmother – which is the most exciting thing – but trust me, I am not going to be sitting knitting socks… Not for a very long time.

All that’s left is to wish you all a very good conference – I hear this first day has been very stimulating – and an enjoyable stay in London.

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