Spain recently became the first European country to approve paid time off work for menstrual health reasons. The bill has now been approved by parliament and will give those with period problems the right to have up to five days off per cycle, should symptoms become so severe.
So what exactly is menstrual leave, what impact will it have, and should we have something similar here in the UK?
The Spanish Menstrual Leave bill forms part of a wider package on sexual and reproductive rights. Those suffering with debilitating cramps, nausea, dizziness and other symptoms can now legally take three paid days off work- and in some cases, five days may be considered. Spanish women will be required to obtain a doctor’s note, and funding will come from the country’s social security system.
So what does this mean for Spanish women suffering from conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis and other conditions related to menstrual health? Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero says it will help progress feminist rights, and will ensure that nobody needs to battle on to work in excruciating pain. It means that nobody needs to take a cut to their salary or take annual leave due to a condition beyond their control. It means that, finally, women’s health is being taken a little more seriously.
But, as expected, there has been some backlash. Critics are warning that rather than liberating women, the new bill could backfire and make it harder for women to be seen as ‘employable’. So does menstrual leave further stigmatise those who menstruate, creating a culture where women are forced to ‘confess’ to being on their period? Or is menstrual leave supporting women in the workplace, making it easier for them to progress within a more level playing field? What do you think?
Here in the UK, we don’t have menstrual leave, but individual organisations may have menstrual leave policies in place. That’s obviously up to each company to decide; as of right now it’s not a legal requirement to implement such a policy.
We’re not the only country yet to legalise time off work for period pain. In 2018, Italy’s proposed menstrual leave bill was officially scrapped after failing to progress, and in the US there are no legal rights for time off work due to menstrual health issues either.
But there are other countries who do have similar policies set up- and in the case of Japan, that’s been the case since 1947! There, employers are simply not allowed to ask women to work on days where period pain and other symptoms are intense.
Indonesia’s 1948 policy was recently updated (in 2003) and states that women do not need to work on the first two days of their cycle. South Korea provides workers with one day leave per month, Taiwan offers half pay for one day per month, and Vietnam allows women to take a 30 minute break per day of their cycle, along with menstrual leave of three days per month. Anyone choosing not to take those three days are paid extra. Finally, in Zambia, women are allowed one day per month- without needing a specific reason, and with no obligation to provide a medical certificate.
Currently in the UK, taking time off work for period pain is at the discretion of your employer- unless a specific policy is in place within that organisation. If period pain is so severe that you cannot get up and out of bed, you can take sick leave- which is unpaid for the first 3 days under UK law. Many UK workers suffering with period related issues simply do not take the time off, feeling forced to struggle through instead.
This report by Bloody Good Period found that 89% of women have experienced stress or anxiety at work due to their period.
56% said they’d like time off work for period related issues, but 25% said that they felt any time they did take off had negatively impacted their career.
Furthermore, 27% said they never felt supported at work, and 33% said they felt it was unprofessional to talk about menstrual heath with their employer full stop.
So would menstrual leave rectify these issues for us here in the UK?
For many, talking unpaid sick leave is not an option, and the only advice we can give here is to do what you can to manage period pain at work.
Our top tips:
If your period cramps are intense enough for you to feel unable to go in to work, then yes- it’s ok to take a day off. But remember that here in the UK we do not have menstrual leave, so check with your employer about whether or not your organisation has a policy in place. You may need to take sick leave, which could be unpaid.
The UK does not have a menstrual leave policy, so it’s at the discretion of your employer whether or not you can take paid leave for period pain.
The UK does not currently have a menstrual leave policy. Individual organisations may have a policy in place, but this is not common practise. Most people will take either annual leave or sick leave for intense period pain. Many more go in to work regardless.
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