Harnessing Hormones

Jenny Holden (DOS at IH Palermo Language Centre) "Spoke for IH" at IATEFL 2023 in Harrogate. 

Harnessing Hormones

At first glance of my talk title, you might wonder what on earth it’s got to do with English Language Teaching. However, with just one look around your institution, you’ll see women’s health is clearly omnipresent in our language teaching organisations, from students to admin staff, to teachers and managers and everyone in between. Women's health should be given due attention, and this is not just a topic for females; if you’ve ever worked with or taught females, this is relevant to you!

My talk at IATEFL focused on two key areas of women’s health: menstruation and the menopause. I have to say I was nervous about presenting on what is considered a leftfield topic in most cultures, but the very fact that such natural processes are considered leftfield or even taboo encouraged me to go for it…as did IH World very kindly sponsoring me to do so!

Perhaps the most important point is to break down the stigma surrounding women’s health. We often use euphemisms to skirt around issues; students and staff alike often carry on despite agonizing pain, or lie about why they need time off out of embarrassment.  

In our privileged role of educators, we can easily incorporate menstruation issues into our lessons. Could you deliver a lesson around imagery found in period product advertising (white shorts and roller-skating, anyone?!)? Can students learn about period poverty? Do your students going to study abroad have the language they need to describe getting their period and any associated problems they might encounter staying in a college or with a host family?

On a more practical level, can your institution provide period protection as part of their exam invigilation kits or make them freely available in bathrooms to help anyone caught short?

But menstruation is not only about problems: with more research into female hormonal health, today there is a growing number of menstruators tracking their monthly cycles to tap into when they are most productive, creative and energetic; or to be more kind to themselves when they’re not. 

The menopause and perimenopause bring along a whole host of related issues that affect women in the workplace typically for a 4-year period. At best, the symptoms connected to menopause such as hot-flushes, low-energy levels, mood changes, brain fog, erratic and heavy periods (and the rest!) will impact our productivity; at worst, it can result in relationship breakdowns and females at the height of their careers leaving their jobs. Not only do organisations lose great talent, but those individuals miss out on income and pension contributions. So, what can we do as institutions to support menopausal employees? Many schools are adopting female health policies to support staff by making adjustments to working conditions and by giving space for women to talk about their issues. 

And that’s really what my talk is about: starting a conversation. So, what is your organisation doing to create a female-friendly workspace?

Jenny Holden - IIH Palermo Language Centre

If you too would like to "Speak for IH", you can find out more about the criteria and how to apply here.