Medical leave for menstrual pain: Is Spain right?
- Spain is reportedly presenting a law allowing three to five days sick leave per month for women suffering from severe period pain. Angela Rodriguez, Spain’s secretary of state for equality, asserted, “It’s important to be clear about what we mean by painful period [...] We’re not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and bad headaches.”
- According to Healthline, the average female has their first period between ages 11 and 14, and their last around menopause, which starts close to 50. Typically, menstrual bleeding lasts three to five days and has a range of symptoms that includes breast tenderness, cramping, severe pain, headaches, bloating, and others.
- A 2017 YouGov poll found that 57% of employed women said period pain affected their ability to work, but only 27% of those women admitted it to their employer.
- The US Department of Labor notes the requirements for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to be “illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider.”
Menstruation and its associated health and treatment effects are often viewed as specialty issues rather than something that affects roughly half the human population. From the so-called 'tampon tax' to the gender pay gap, women (and some trans men) still often have to justify a normal, biological function in ways that cis men don't. This is further compounded by the still shocking amount of ignorance surrounding menstruation, periods, and female anatomy, even among otherwise well-educated men.
Spain's proposal to allow for three days' leave per month for severe or painful menstrual cycles goes some way toward addressing this fact by simply stating the obvious: menstrual health is, first and foremost, about health and should be treated the same as any other piece of healthcare.
And just like in other circumstances where a chronic condition may cause flare ups, menstrual pain should be recognized similarly, especially as the pain itself can have debilitating side effects. So, by providing time off during a bad menstrual episode, workplaces can provide women with the space to recover, just as they would after an illness or surgery, without worrying if their work will suffer for it.
Further, women shouldn't be penalized professionally for a condition outside their control, any more than they should be penalized for pregnancy or breast cancer (even if, unfortunately, they too often are). Recognizing that menstruation is as much a part of everyday life as any other physiological condition is a step closer to full recognition for women and creating more equitable workspaces for them.
Women already struggle in the workplace when it comes to being perceived as just as capable as men, so menstrual policies would only further the stigma that women are not as productive as men. In other words, menstrual policies could reinforce damaging stereotypes that women have fought so hard to admonish.
Taking leave is already a difficult issue in most professions, and menstrual leave is simply counterproductive, creating more problems than it solves. In fact, women themselves are divided about the issue, citing the fact that not all women have periods and that menstrual leave policies increase 'the persistent problem of period stereotypes.' Plus, many would take advantage of these policies, especially employers, who might discriminate against women in various ways to avoid adhering to them.
Again, policies like menstrual leave are regressive ideas for women and workplaces. Not only will many take advantage of these policies, but women may accept 'bad periods' as the norm, discouraging those with bad periods from obtaining help. Older women are particularly opposed to this type of leave, claiming that they have been able to manage their periods their entire lives with no accommodations. Instead of giving leave for menstrual pain, some argue it is better to demystify the period in the workplace, such as providing tampons in the bathroom, Midol, and other accommodations.
Finally, more focus should be placed on larger policies that would truly benefit the lives of women, such as paid maternity leave. Women have found ways to deal and work with periods for centuries, and giving them this type of leave sets them back further than before. After all, it seems that menstrual policies may only be a distraction from other, larger women's issues.