On Thursday this week, Spain passed a new bill allowing unlimited menstrual leave for women, provided they’ve got a doctor’s note. Spain is the first in Europe to pass the bill for menstrual leave and is one of the few to follow suit after other countries like Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Zambia.
The earliest traces of menstrual leave policies date back to the 1920s in the Soviet Union. Yet, in the present day, the stigma behind a woman’s natural biological cycle casts menstrual leave as a point of contention and debate in the workplace.
Why? Sadly, this stigma does not consider the health and well-being of female employees.
Those who don’t understand what period equity is, often associate the menstrual cycle with shame, perceived as something that should be dealt with personally. It shouldn’t affect your work life…right? Wrong. The menstrual cycle is a natural process, it’s biological and it’s universal to women.
The symptoms associated with being on your period are gruelling and can cause severe pain. Why should women continue to internalize this?
Let’s talk about period equity
In an article on Mail&Guardian, a researcher at the Institute for Economic Justice, Cheryl-Lyn Selman, says:
“The menstrual cycle is perfectly natural. It is not something to be tolerated … It is also something we can’t choose. And so we are at the point now where we can say that women have the right to be in the labour market, participate in the labour force and they come with the reality of a menstrual cycle.”
Between 15 and 25% of women experience moderate to severe menstrual cramps, whilst 10 to 15% of women won’t find any relief from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Some women also suffer from menstrual conditions like endometriosis or PCOS, which exacerbate menstrual pain.
Why are women forced to internalize a natural biological process for the sake of keeping their job?
How would menstrual leave work?
Ideally, menstrual leave policies would allow women paid or unpaid time off on their period, and this would not count as standard or sick leave.
Let’s look at how Spain does it. Just recently, the European country passed a new bill allowing women to take unlimited menstrual leave during their period. The only catch? You’ll need a doctor’s note. Understandable, but it raises an important question. What happens to those who can’t afford a doctor or aren’t on healthcare? State healthcare is free in Spain, but how would this translate to other countries where it’s not free?
Sometimes though, even when menstrual leave has been made legal in countries like Japan, some women just won’t take it, even when experiencing severe symptoms. Why?
Menstrual leave perceived as a weakness?
The sad fact of the matter is that women are still fighting to be seen as equals to their male counterparts in the workplace. When it comes down to taking menstrual leave, women who face inequality in the workplace will feel threatened by appearing ‘weak’ against their male counterparts, who don’t menstruate.
This reality is enforced by a stigma that still sees women having to compete for their spot in the workplace amongst their male counterparts. Why are we still needing to compete in the first place? This leads us to the next cause for concern…will employers start to prioritize hiring males instead of females, when menstrual leave is granted by law?
In Australia, India, and France, forward-thinking, progressive companies have already started to implement menstrual leave for female employees without waiting for the law, perhaps this is a sign of hope. It all comes down to how employers handle workplace ethics.
How would South Africa fair?
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