It is no secret that gender inequality continues to be present nowadays, especially in an environment such as the workplace. This manifests all the way from differences in salary to unguaranteed paid maternity leave. Accustomed to this situation, paid menstrual leave was an unexpected surprise for women to readily enjoy in 2023.
The uterus prepares for pregnancy every single month. If no pregnancy occurs, the uterus sheds its inner lining in the form of blood and tissue through the vagina. This is commonly known as menstruation or period, and typically lasts around three to seven days every month.
Although the menstruation cycle is a fascinating phenomenon that allows for reproduction, it can also be the monthly cause of severe pain for many people that possess a uterus (usually over the age of eleven). Painful periods can manifest in the form of abdominal and pelvic cramping, lower back pain, bloating, sore breasts, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue… The list of symptoms is limitless and the intensity of the pain varies between menstruators.
What has been stated so far should be common knowledge given that periods are typical and happen as often as once a month for almost half of the world’s population. However, as habitual and present as menstruation is in society, it is still considered shameful and taboo to discuss in public settings. It is often perceived as a rude, inappropriate, and even unnecessary topic to bring up in a casual conversation.
Even if “menstruation” and “period” are the proper and given terms, many still choose to use the phrase “that time of the month” to allude to it. This stigma has managed to associate such a normal occurrence with adjectives such as dirty, disgusting, gruesome, gross, vulgar, shameful, impure, unladylike, or even “TMI” (too much information). For this reason, it is still a very difficult topic to bring up successfully without creating faces of shock and a general sense of discomfort in the room.
As of February 16th, 2023, Spain became the first country in Europe to pass a law that allows the so-called “paid menstrual leave”. This new law recognizes those with incapacitating periods (severe cramping, back pain, and vomiting amongst other symptoms) and enables them to take a three-day menstrual leave of absence, with the chance of extending it to five days. In order to make use of the paid menstrual leave, the presentation of a doctor’s note is required. The law is organised so that the Spanish public health system will foot the bill.
The bill, approved by the Spanish Parliament, is part of a broader set of laws on sexual and reproductive rights that facilitates safe abortions in public hospitals, enables the voluntary change of gender over the age of 16, and provides free menstrual products both in schools and prisons, amongst other laws.
The Spanish Equality Minister, Irene Montero, recognised that it was “a historic day of progress for feminist rights”.
Moving forward, Spain has opened a door to Worldwide menstrual leave. As of right now, menstrual leave is only offered in a handful of countries including Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Zambia; making Spain the first Western country to adopt it.
The implementation of these types of policies are always a cause for concern as they can backfire and go against the main aim of supporting women. Some are afraid that menstrual leave could disincentivize the employment of women, favouring men in the workforce even further. Given the fact that women have been asked whether they are going to be mothers before being hired, would a law like this pose the question of whether they suffer from period pains as well? This would ultimately hinder women, widening the gender inequality gap.
“Is it liberating? Are these policies that recognise the reality of our bodies at work and seek to support them? Or is this a policy that stigmatises, embarrasses, is a disincentive for employing women?” – Elizabeth Hill, (Associate professor at the University of Sydney)
It is also important to consider that sick leaves are already seen as a sign of weakness and laziness in a competitive environment such as the workplace. It is for this reason that the implementation of a specific leave for menstruation may provide more room for women to be judged, marginalised, and seen as less capable of their job position.
As a result of periods repeatedly being an unspoken and hidden topic in today’s society, paid menstrual leave is in danger of contradicting its main aim. Hence, there is an urgent need for education, awareness as well as openness in this area to avoid people from being biased against laws that shed a light on common bodily functions.
Bello, Camille. “Spain Passes Europe’s First Paid ‘Menstrual Leave’ Law.” Euronews, 25 Feb. 2023, https://www.euronews.com/next/2023/02/16/spain-set-to-become-the-first-european-country-to-introduce-a-3-day-menstrual-leave-for-wo#:~:text=The%20law%20gives%20the%20right,system%20will%20foot%20the%20bill.
Camut, Nicolas. “Spain Approves Paid Menstrual Leave, First Country in Europe to Do So.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/bill-europe-spain-parliament-creates-first-menstrual-leave-in-europe/.
Costa, MaryLou, and WorkLife. “Why Global Paid Menstrual-Leave Movement Could Actually Harm Women, Senior Female Execs Warn.” WorkLife, 9 June 2022, https://www.worklife.news/dei/paid-menstrual-leave-movement-could-actually-harm-women-senior-female-execs-warn/.
“Menstruation | Period.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://medlineplus.gov/menstruation.html#:~:text=Menstruation%2C%20or%20period%2C%20is%20normal,tissue%20from%20inside%20the%20uterus.