Menstrual leave: A Boon or a Curse?


Menstrual leave: A Boon or a Curse?

Menstrual leave Ichhori_Webp

I recall sitting in the classroom and being in tears because I was in so much agony. And I had no idea what to do. I had to leave, obviously.

Judy Birch recalls what it was like to have significant menstrual symptoms in this way.

Birch, who now manages the Pelvic Pain Support Network in the United Kingdom, is one of the billions of women who experience severe menstrual symptoms. Heavy bleeding, intense cramps, and exhaustion, as well as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, are all symptoms of dysmenorrhea.

According to one study, up to 91 per cent of women of reproductive age suffer from dysmenorrhea, with up to 29 per cent experiencing severe pain.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, up to 20% of women experience severe dysmenorrhea that interferes with their everyday activities.

So, how do women deal with it?

"I was really struggling," Birch says, "not able to concentrate, not able to focus... and I wasn't functioning at all."

Women can take legally mandated time off during their periods in certain nations across the world. Such "menstrual leave" rules are divisive; they're accused of perpetuating stigma and prejudice, and they're often the focus of heated debate. Spain, on the other hand, maybe on the verge of being the first European country to do so.

Three days extra leave per month

The Spanish Cabinet approved a draught bill on Tuesday that would allow for up to three days of menstrual leave per month. It must now pass through Parliament. If approved, Spain would become the first European country to do so.

Although not all details are apparent, women would need to be suffering from severe menstrual symptoms and would most likely be needed to submit a medical certificate in order to be eligible for the leave.

In our country, we have difficulties identifying menstruation as a natural phenomenon that must create rights," Toni Morillas, director of Spain's Institute of Women, told the Spanish online news site Publico.

According to Morillas, one out of every two women suffers from unpleasant periods.

DW reached out to the institute as well as the Spanish Ministry of Equality, where the institute is based, but neither responded at this time.

The policy proposal is part of a new reproductive health law that gives women who terminate pregnancies leave and eliminates the requirement for a parental agreement in abortions for women aged 16 to 17. It would also repeal sales taxes on menstruation goods such as pads and tampons in supermarkets.

East Asian countries lead in menstrual leave

In 2017, the Italian parliament proposed a similar period leave plan, which provoked heated debate over whether it would encourage employment discrimination. The bid was eventually unsuccessful.

Only a few nations, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Zambia, have national policies that provide paid menstruation leave.

Veve Hitipeuw, the CEO of Kiroyan Partners in Indonesia, is both an employer who is required to provide this leave and an employee who has taken use of it.

She claims she took this absence on occasion because she suffered from acute abdominal pain throughout her period. It was quite difficult to sit comfortably. "I couldn't work if I had to sit at my desk or in front of my laptop for eight or nine hours every day." " Hitipeuw described her painful periods as "very unpleasant," and she viewed the policy as "extremely useful for me."

"There's still a stigma or discrimination surrounding this leave because people think: Women are simply lazy, they don't want to work," she adds, adding that she has never had any difficulty taking or granting it.

She notes that the framework may only exist in theory for female factory employees because productivity is directly tied to time spent on the job.

In Puebla, Mexico, a lady works on a car on the assembly line of the Zacua auto company, Mexico's first electric car brand built primarily by women.

Period leave can be problematic

A glance at Japan, which implemented its period leave programe in 1947 as part of postwar industrial reforms, appears to support that point of view. According to a recent Nikkei survey, less than 10% of women claim menstruation leave, despite the fact that 48% of those polled occasionally desire to use it but never do, for example, because they are hesitant to apply to their male employer or because so few other women do.

Menstruation is rarely used as a justification for taking time off in European countries with extensive leave policies. In a 2019 poll of more than 30,000 Dutch women, it was shown that while 14 per cent had taken time from work during their period, just 20% reported the genuine picture.

The pros and drawbacks of menstrual leave in the workplace were detailed in a comprehensive research article published in 2020 as part of a handbook on menstruation studies.

According to the paper, such rules have detrimental consequences such as "propagating sexist views and attitudes, contributing to menstrual stigma and perpetuating gender stereotypes, negatively impacting the gender wage gap, and encouraging the medicalization of menstruation."

 Female fragility, unproductivity, and unreliability are examples of negative gender stereotypes, while "medicalization of menstruation" presents menstruation as a sickness that needs to be "fixed," according to the report.

Menstruators can include nonbinary and transgender people, according to the report, and they should have access to period leave as well.

A lot of women are actually penalized at work if they do take regular time off, as a monthly thing, Birch says of her experience with the network in the UK. They could be punished or perhaps fired.

She points out that the ability to implement a menstrual leave policy would vary widely by country, and would be far more difficult in countries like the United States, which offer limited paid leave in general.

Spain's proposal is insufficient for Birch. Three days is nothing when you suffer that kind of anguish every month.

It's pitiful, in my opinion."

To accommodate women with severe menstrual symptoms, she believes the general work atmosphere should be made much more flexible.

"Some menstruators would benefit from workplace flexibility more broadly (for example, additional time off, the option to work from home, tailored work schedules)," according to the 2020 article.

And some businesses are taking notice, even incorporating it into their policies.

Supporting women in the workplace

Since August 2020, Zomato, an Indian-based company focused on food delivery, has had a menstrual leave policy in effect. Vaidika Parashar, the company's communications director, described the structure as offering 10 period leave days each year in addition to regular leave.

She explains an honor system in which employees just update their status on a team chat with an emoji of a calendar with red drips, with no questions asked. She also utilises this time off.

I would literally put on the emoji and say, I am not available, on one of those days. And I've seen plenty of people who value it. At Zomato, we take it very seriously.       

The organization has taken steps to foster a workplace atmosphere in which period leave is not stigmatized. She emphasizes that the guideline applies to "all appropriate genders," including transgender people. "You shouldn't be alarmed about it; it's a biological purpose."

She claims that implementing the policy has enhanced company productivity. According to a poll of Dutch women, lost productivity owing to "presenteeism," or times when around 81 per cent of women went to work despite severe menstruation symptoms, amounted to nearly nine days per year.

Menstrual leave, according to Parashar, has helped Zomato establish transparency, fostered a work climate where people feel comfortable being themselves, and enhanced employee retention — as well as acting as a recruiting tool for women. In India, just approximately 16 per cent of women participate in the labour force, according to government data from 2020.

"We've never had any formal reports of misuse," she adds, adding that some women may take advantage of menstruation leave when they aren't in such bad shape.

Regardless, Parashar argues that such abuse is irrelevant since "we simply believe that we need to enable people to have the necessary mechanisms to constantly be at their best." All of these functions become a part of it, whether it's parental leave or menstrual leave."

Menstrual leave, according to Hitipeuw, is essentially a symbol of respect and support for women.

Workplaces or businesses must allow women to do their jobs while also fulfilling their societal obligations — as a human being, a woman, and a mother.

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