"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

Working woman
Working woman
Clara Ott

BERLIN â€" 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 â€" no matter what kind â€" 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 â€" male protesters this time â€" 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 â€" 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.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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