Menstrual leave – empowering or embarrassing?15/08/2022
News has broken of Spain’s new draft bill allowing people with painful periods to take three paid days off a month.
This has prompted various UK charities to call upon the UK government to introduce similar measures.
Although Spain’s introduction of the draft bill for menstrual pain leave may be a first in a Western country, it is by no means the first in the world.
Other countries have had (and some still do) similar measures to menstrual leave:
Introduced in 1922, the Soviet Union legislated in favour of women working in factory jobs, allowing them with two to three days a month of fully paid leave during their periods.
However, its reception and effectiveness was not recorded in detail before the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Introduced in 1947, the Japanese government granted women an industrial right where conditions of work were inadequate, meaning, there were not adequate provision of bathrooms and/or sanitisation for women workers.
There is no fixed number of days stipulated by law, however it merely states that, “when a woman for whom work during menstrual periods would be specially difficult has requested leave, the employer shall not employ such woman on days of the menstrual period.”
However, it should be noted that few employees (by a recent survey – less than 10% of working Japanese women) actually take advantage of their right, in the fear of reprimand, sexual harassment and/or perceptions of weakness.
Introduced in 1948, similar to what was introduced by the Japanese a year earlier, it was an industrial right for women miners or factory workers where conditions of work were inadequate.
Surveys conducted ever since have shown that women employed in services sectors rarely took advantage of this leave, and viewed it almost as an “embarrassment”.
Its reception being so poor that in the 1990s the Association of Indonesian Businesswomen called for a repeal of the policy and branding it “contradictory to the aims of women’s emancipation”.
South Korean women are allowed one day of unpaid leave per month at an employee’s request – regardless of their job status or tenure.
However, male resistance to the policy is fierce in Korea where it has been claimed by male rights activists that menstrual leave is a form of “reverse sexism”.
Even prior to such resistance, it is cited that uptake of the policy was low as women often found it difficult to cite menstrual pain as a reason for leave to their mainly male-dominated colleagues (survey states that only 1% of Korean companies with more than 100 employees have female executives).
From the above, there is a trend that is perceivable – where menstrual leave is offered it is often an underused right for a variety of reasons.
That brings us onto the question of whether menstrual leave is actually advantageous or not – other countries have tried and tested policies, yet their efficacy is lacking to the extent that there are calls for it to be repealed/abolished in its entirety.
On paper, these policies appear to be a tool for the empowerment of women, however in reality it may well create an opposite effect, generating enmity towards those who do take advantage of it and therefore discouraging others from doing so.
It seems that in order for menstrual leave to carry out its intended effect, wider education to all on the effects of menstruation is required, such that all parties can exercise empathy and understanding.
If you have any questions regarding your entitlement to leave or if you are considering providing enhanced leave to employees please contact either Nick Smith or Laura Liddle of the Mincoffs’ employment team who can assist further.