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Could Menstrual Leave Be The Next Work-Life Benefit?

Source | FastCompany : By Vivian Giang

Women’s menstrual cycles are one of the few topics that still make people uncomfortable, especially in the workplace. Perhaps this is a result of the antiquated sexist notion that women’s emotions are tied to their period, or that women fear that they will be viewed as weak if they ask for time off, and often end up keeping what can be crippling monthly pain to themselves.

But could paid leave for period pain catch on? British company Coexist made headlines when it introduced a period leave policy that would allow women to take time off that wouldn’t count toward sick days. Bex Baxter, the director of Coexist, thought of the idea last year when she noticed a female employee who could barely stand from the severe pain she suffered. Baxter then reached out to Alexandra Pope, cofounder of the Red School—which aims at bringing “menstruality consciousness” to the world—and the two organized a one-day seminar opened to the public called “Pioneering Period Policy: Valuing natural cycles in the workplace.”

Although Coexist is reportedly the first company in England to implement a paid period leave, it isn’t the first in the world. In February, China’s eastern province Anhui became the third in the country to introduce a “period leave,” joining Shanxi and Hebei provinces. Japan has had a policy in place since 1947, shortly after the Second World War when an influx of women joined the workforce. Other Asian countries, like South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia also grant some form of menstrual leave. In 2013, Russian politician Mikhail Degtyaryov drafted a policy that would give female workers additional days off for severe pains.

In theory, while it’s just plain humane to give women time off when they’re dealing with excruciating pain that would prevent them from working, taking advantage of this policy would also mean revealing when you’re on your period—which could be awkward with male bosses and colleagues.

WHY WE NEED PERIOD LEAVE

As women continue to climb ranks and take on higher positions, women’s health issues are getting more attention. Research has shown that one in 10 women’s menstrual cramps are so severe, it disrupts their daily lives. Or that there’s a disease associated with menstruation called “endometriosis” where a tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside of it. Girls writer and actor Lena Dunham brought attention to endometriosis, which causes severe pelvic pains and even infertility, when she wrote about living and working with it in the essay, The Sickest Girl.

As more research and stories gain attention, it’s clear that menstrual pain is a serious medical problem for many women. For some, it’s a real struggle that causes chronic pain, yet still feels shameful to discuss openly in a work environment. Instead, most women suffering from severe cramps likely take a sick or vacation day or work from home, if their companies allow it.

DOWNSIDES FOR WOMEN THAT TAKE MENSTRUAL LEAVE

Whenever rights for any group of people are imbalanced, discrimination and stereotypes are high likelihoods. While countries in Asia have been first to implement period leave, actually taking the leave is still not culturally accepted. For instance, in Indonesia where a monthly two-day menstruation leave is provided by law, companies need to perform physical examinations on female workers before they can take off. Hence, it’s no surprise employees rarely use the provision, especially in male-dominated workplaces.

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