With the restoration of the Executive and our First Minister’s commitment to the Violence Against women and Girls Strategy in her first speech, you might have thought I would have run out of material for this week’s paper.

You might have even thought I would have hung up my writing hat. You will be relieved to know that is not the case.

A Fermanagh woman on ‘X’ (Twitter) who I admire greatly reflected my own feelings about a vest built to simulate menopause recently.

It was a relief to hear someone else articulate my thoughts on this item in only X’s 280 available characters.

Let me give you some background. According to the vest’s creators, it allows people to become ‘menopause allies’ by promoting awareness of the symptoms of menopause, namely hot flushes.

It allows the wearer to experience a hot flush for a few minutes, the hope being that once they have experienced menopause, they will be motivated to support colleagues transitioning through menopause.

On the face of it, this seems harmless. You might wonder what objection I could possibly have to a garment that aims to promote better awareness of an issue that will impact every woman?

What better way could there be to tackle workplace equality than to enable male employees to try on a hot flush for five minutes?

I am glad you asked.

There is a maverick alternative to this gadget that I favour. More than half the population are female.

More than fifty per cent of the population will be able to share at some point what their personal experience of menopause is, or was.

A novel and forward-thinking way to create workplaces that support women during menopause might be ... just to ask them what they need, and believe them when they tell you what would help.

I know, it’s a jarring idea. Believing women doesn’t always come naturally to us.

A 2018 study by Anke Samulowit found that doctors often view men with chronic pain as “brave” or “stoic”, but view women with chronic pain as “emotional” or “hysterical” (more on that word, later).

The study also found that doctors were more likely to treat women’s pain as a product of a mental health condition, rather than a physical condition.

A 2018 survey of physicians and dentists arrived at similar conclusions: Many of these healthcare professionals believed that women exaggerate their pain.

This was true even though 40 per cent of the participants were women.

I can see why a vest might be an appealing idea when we are so predisposed to rolling our eyes at women’s healthcare needs.

Unfortunately, there is another problem. These vests are limited to a ‘hot flush’ only, ignoring the litany of other symptoms.

Similar items are available to allow a wearer to experience period pain or labour pain, but have a browse at some of the videos of these experiences.

Invariably, they feature a group of men, egging one another on, having just minimised the symptoms, yet end up writhing in pain or walking away victorious if they can stick it for a few minutes.

This looks, sounds and feels suspiciously like entertainment.

The turn-out for events where you can ‘try on’ the menopause seems to be high, but some of the comments made by men while wearing them make for deeply uncomfortable listening.

While watching, one can’t help but think there is an element of trying it on for entertainment, rather than enlightenment.

Perhaps, in that context, a menopause simulation is successful? I have my doubts whether half the number would turn up to a policy discussion on menopause or women’s heath generally.

The sad reality is that an experience endured by many women gains more traction when there’s a gimmick accompanying it.

This fits nicely with how women’s healthcare has been viewed historically.

‘Hysteria’ comes from the Greek root, hystera, which translates to the English word "uterus".

The condition of hysteria, historically speaking, has been used to describe extreme changes in mood, emotion, and behavioural response in women.

It has only been used in reference to women, not men.

There is a balance to be struck when talking about women’s health. Wearing a vest and discussing how hard it is to concentrate while the heat pads warm up leans in to the stereotypes embedded throughout history.

Contrary to what we might think, menopause does not impact the problem-solving parts of the brain.

Women are not predisposed to poor performance at work during menopause.

Rather, the imbalance of hormones in the body makes it more difficult to filter and manage emotions during stressful situations.

When situations become stressful for women, it doesn't help alleviate the anxiety they may feel by having challenges taken away from them.

Is it maverick to think that women cannot be reduced to singular experiences, or that their needs can’t be reduced to tick-boxes or vests?

Try as I might, I cannot find a place for a menopause vest as a good substitute for active listening, engagement with female colleagues, and taking a needs-based approach to this time of transition.

While statutory equality law does not expressly provide protection for menopause or perimenopause, those who suffer discrimination in employment that is related directly or indirectly to them having menopausal symptoms may be able to seek legal remedies if alleging that they have suffered unlawful discrimination or harassment on the grounds of sex, disability or age.

With this in mind, if, as an employer, you still find yourself at a loss as to how best to support your female staff during this time, you are in luck.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland Committee, and Labour Relations Agency have produced guidance: ‘Promoting Equality in Employment for Women Affected by the Menopause’, to explain why menopause may be a workplace issue for some employees, and how employers can support those affected by it.

So, there you have it. For-profit menopause experiences can be replaced by engaging in conversation with women and browsing the Equality Commission guidance.

Who would have thought it?

Kerrie Flood is Development Manager at Fermanagh Women’s Aid.