"Menstrual Leave" For Working Women Divides Feminists
Though a number of Asian countries have special menstrual leave policies for working women, the West hasn't embraced the notion, in part because feminists have rejected the idea. But now a UK company has adopted time off for women facing monthly p
BERLIN — For many women, the menstrual cycle can complicate fulfilling work responsiities. This raises a question: should female workers be allowed to take sick leave because of pain during their periods, or be required to take the time off as annual leave?
A company in Bristol, UK is introducing a "period policy" to allow women extra time off as needed every month. It's not a new idea, though it's virtually unheard of in the West.
Common symptoms of menstruation can include chills, dizziness, abdominal cramps and back pain. These ailments regularly force women to ask themselves whether they will go to work or stay at home sick. They have to decide whether they can function at the office on painkillers or whether they should instead take advantage of the fact that they only have to present a sick note after the third day of illness.
Women who work for the Bristol event coordination company Coexist no longer have to keep this struggle and suffering to themselves. Under the new policy, they will be allowed to stay home on sick leave once a month.
"I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods," company manager Bex Baxter told The Bristol Post. "Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. This is unfair. If someone is in pain — no matter what kind — they are encouraged to go home."
Sensitive to workers
The company employs 24 women and six men and is sensitive to their health. Which is why she considers it absolutely indispensable to finally recognize women's monthly suffering as true illness.
She criticizes those who don't or won't acknowledge why women are less efficient when menstruating. "I was talking to someone the other day and they said if it were men who had periods then this policy would have been brought in sooner," she said. "But we just want to celebrate and start talking about menstruation in a positive way, rather than the negativity which has shrouded the cycle."
Baxter stresses that she's not suggesting automatic monthly leave. The "period policy" should only be used when necessary. Not every woman suffers from extreme period pains, but there are some women who have endometriosis and suffer even more than most.
Around the world
A European-wide discussion has begun. Certain feminists have reminded women that there is such a thing as equality of the sexes. Many of them view "menstrual leave" as a step backwards. Others view the discussion of women's ability to work during their periods as plain sexist.
But this discussion gained traction in Asia more than 70 years ago. Japan enacted a policy in 1947 to allow women time off, while women in Indonesia have been able to take off two days a month since 1948. More recently, Taiwan has granted women up to three extra days off since 2013. The companies in the respective countries each have their own systems of either filing these days as paid or unpaid leave.
"Menstrual leave" has, however, caused protests and accusations of discrimination. Many Asian women don't make use of their extra leave out of fear of losing their job, on the one hand. On the other, they criticize their bosses for forcing them to provide bloody tampons or pads as proof.
The male-dominated world of business in South Korea invented bonuses for hard-working women who show up at the office despite pain. But this regulation was answered with protests too — male protesters this time — who suggested that women were abusing the policy unscrupulously.
In Russia, an initiative for menstrual leave was based on the idea that women having their periods were less able to concentrate and tended to emotional outbursts. In the end, the protests of feminists forced the idea to be shelved.
In 2005, a worker's union at an Australian Toyota plant demanded 12 days a year of special paid leave for women, arguing that it was difficult for female employees who were menstruating to work standing at the conveyer belt. Toyota rejected the demand.
The only global role model providing such leave without any considerable protests or accusations of discrimination is the sports equipment manufacturer Nike. The exemption leave for female employees was anchored in the company's global regulations in 2007, and is also applicable to the company's subcontractors.
Here in Germany there are no initiatives or discussions of note on this subject. Keeping existing industrial laws in mind, women have just two options on a monthly basis — either to stay home for two days without a sick note or to take strong painkillers and cope with the workday as best they can.