In the last few years, periods have well and truly come out of the bathroom and entered the public arena.
From tackling entrenched taboos to considering more carefully how our tampons, pads and other period products are manufactured, women are now talking much more openly about the issues that impact them every month.
A current hot topic of discussion is the idea of ‘menstrual leave’ – giving a woman paid time off for either the first day or the entirety of her period.
On one hand, this is a progressive method of aiding women during a physically painful time. However, others see it as demeaning to a woman’s work ethic and quite sexist. The ongoing debate has divided people on their ideas of feminism, as well as equality in the workplace.
Female workers were given time off as a means of improving productivity. In turn, the practice has been adopted in India and South Korea. Individual companies in the UK and US have made the concept an option for their workers. The topic has recently been discussed in the UK on mainstream outlets such as This Morning, Channel 4 News and Buzzfeed, furthering the campaign's cause.
On one hand, supporters argue that menstrual leave gives women the opportunity to recuperate at a time that can be both physically and mentally challenging. While the acknowledgment from major companies about the physical and mental challenge of working on your period is a step in the right direction, this idea is perhaps most appropriate for those who suffer aggressive forms of menstrual cramps and pain. Should all women be entitled to menstrual leave, or only some? How do we differentiate?
We’re all brutally aware that pre-menstrual syndrome has been the butt of jokes towards women for years, but there are also more complex problems. The percentage of women that suffer from dysmenorrhoea – severe period pains – was found to be at 41.1%, while 81.1% of women in the same study stated they experience period pain in some form over the course of their period. While many women simply ‘get on’ with their work while menstruating, it can be incredibly difficult for those with more debilitating pain.
On the flip side is the idea that women are somewhat ‘inferior’ to handling pain to men, or that productivity declines when a woman is menstruating
Critics point to the fact that companies may be reluctant to hire women if this policy is put in place. In 2014, law firm Slater & Gordonsurveyed managers in their branches and discovered a hesitancy to hire women in their 20s and 30s as opposed to their male counterparts due to the prospect of maternity leave. The study was found to be a shocking 1 in 3 out of the 500 managers they surveyed. Menstrual leave, under this context, could therefore be perceived as an even more substantial loss of productivity, if the policy was ever made a requirement by law.
Menopausal women and transwomen are seemingly excluded from this, when they themselves are faced with bodily issues out of their own control. There seems to be no easy way of finding a middle ground with a discussion as complex as this. At this moment in time, the proposal is being made as a choice of the employer, and not necessarily a requirement by law. Therefore, it would not be a requirement to take the leave, but instead one’s own decision.
Whatever the outcome, there has been a positive shift in the conversation around menstruation that we welcome.