How people experience menstruation can run the gamut, from minor inconvenience to debilitating pain and discomfort to everything in between. For some, it's a few extra bathroom trips and maybe a little moodiness for a few days. For others, the symptoms can include migraine headaches, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea and cramps that make it nearly impossible to get out of bed.
Societies and cultures around the world have taken different approaches to menstruation, from stigmatizing ostracization to celebration and respect. And generally speaking—other than perhaps putting period product machines in women's restrooms—the professional world simply pretends that menstruation doesn't exist. Employers aren't about to ask about it and considering the uphill battle to get women accepted in many professional settings, most women aren't going to openly talk about it.
But globally, women make up nearly 40% of the labor force, and in the U.S. that percentage climbs to nearly 50%. With so many women participating in the workforce, and with a good percentage of people who menstruate experiencing significant pain and discomfort, it seems logical that menstruation would at least be a consideration of some sort in terms of employment policies.
A handful of countries have officially recognized menstruation as a reason to take time off of work, including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Zambia and parts of China and India. According to CBS 8, these countries offer anywhere from 30 extra minutes of break time to multiple days off with full pay for employees whose menstrual symptoms interfere with their work. In South Korea, an ex-CEO made headlines last year when he was fined for refusing to allow an employee menstrual leave, which is protected by the country's employment laws. But the concept isn't new. Japan's menstrual leave policies have been in place since 1947.
Now, Spain is positioned to become the first Western nation to offer people paid time off during their periods.
According to Euronews Next , the Spanish government is expected to endorse a reproductive health bill that includes three to five days of menstrual leave per month for those with painful periods.
The outlet reported that Irene Montero, Spain's equality minister, wrote on Twitter: "We are making progress so that it is no longer normal to go to work in pain and to put an end to the stigma, shame and silence surrounding menstruation. We are making progress on rights."
However, the push for menstrual leave is not without controversy. Members of Spain's government as well as its main trade unions have differing opinions on the measure, with some questioning what constitutes a "painful period" and some expressing concern that menstrual leave will ultimately stigmatize women even more, making it less likely that employers will want to hire women.
Such debates are reflected in discussions among the general population as well. A Reddit post about Spain's pending legislation prompted some lively debates about whether menstrual leave is a positive or negative thing for women in the workforce.
"On one hand I think it's fantastic a woman can take a few days off when she's got her period, I know I'd hate to work with cramps and stuff" wrote one commenter. "But I do worry that it might make business less likely to hire women, and/or women less valuable."
"I'd imagine in the same way that having a kid makes some companies not want to hire women, having them taking 3 days off will further push them to the side of let's find a reason not to hire them," wrote another.
"I don’t think codifying the ridiculous idea that women are 10% less productive than men is a good thing," wrote another.
However, it appears the policy is not meant to be a blanket few days off for all people who menstruate, but rather for those who suffer from severe symptoms.
"It is important to clarify what a painful period is, we are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhea, severe headaches, fever," Ángela Rodríguez, Spain’s secretary of state for equality and against gender violence, told El Periódico newspaper, according to Euronews Next.
In addition to concerns, there was compassion on Reddit for women who suffer from painful periods as well.
"Seems good in theory. Women have the option to use it, but don't have to if their periods aren't bad," wrote one Reddit commenter. "It's a pro-labor market right now, so this is the right time to push for these sorts of programs. My wife gets terrible cramps prior to her cycle. I would like for her to at least have the option to take a day or two off so she can take some Pamprin and curl up in a ball."
"I’m a guy I don’t get periods but I know my mom and my sister particularly my sister gets it so bad she has to stay home from school when that time of the month comes around," wrote another. "And I guess from how I understand it every woman’s period is different from another so I hope this helps those who have severe pain and such."
The post also prompted discussion about how paid sick leave varies from place to place. Some people were shocked to hear that paid sick leave isn't guaranteed in some places (ahem, the United States) and some were surprised that in some places where paid sick leave is unlimited, a doctor has to send a note to your employer for it to count.
Some people felt that if you don't work, you don't deserve to get paid, period. Some felt that an employer has no right to know what your medical status is and if you are sick, you should just be able to say you're sick and be believed. Some complained that people go to work sick and make others sick because they're afraid of losing their jobs.
Fundamentally, if someone is not feeling well enough to work, whether it's due to illness or period pain or other health issues, they should be able to take time off without worrying about their livelihood. That's simply humane. A menstrual leave law may have pros and cons in practice, but at the end of the day, the acknowledgment that some periods can leave people suffering for a few days a month is a good thing, and ensuring that those people have the ability to care for themselves is the right thing to do.
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