Spain becomes the first European country to announce menstrual leave for women. The announcement is a light amidst the commotion of debates over menstrual leaves. Moreover, it also proves to be an epitome for other countries to get over menstrual taboos and allow women to bleed with dignity. However, will menstrual leaves affect female labour force participation? Will it encourage sexism in the workplace? Let's explore.
While Spain becomes the first European country to allow menstrual leave to women, Bihar is the only state in India with government-approved menstrual leaves. To apply the menstrual leave policy in the entire country, the Supreme court is going o hear the case on February 24, 2023.
Now let us discuss how the increasing awareness around menstrual leave is impacting society.
Even though the government is trying to break the barriers around menstruation- of taboos, sexism and shame- our society is not yet ready to accept it. When I asked around, most of the people, including women, were against the policy of menstrual leave. I conducted a survey on menstrual leave in 2018 among teenagers (below 19 years), middle-aged (above 20) and older age (above 30). Around 50 per cent of responders were unaware of menstrual leave policies. On the other hand, 11 per cent denied that women should get menstrual leave and the responders were both male and female.
The argument against menstrual leave is that it doesn’t empower women but makes them the weaker sex. It lowers women’s potential as an employee and reduces their chances to get hired which is plausible because employers are already reserved when it comes to hiring women considering maternity leave, quitting post-marriage or under the pressure of families. According to a report, 73 per cent of Indian women leave their jobs post-pregnancy. And as per another research, only 32 per cent of married Indian women are employed.
Menstrual leave which is around 2 days a month is argued to reduce women’s potential against male employees. It encourages sexism under which women are already suffering- for example gender pay gap, double hard work than men and exclusion from important projects or late night shifts.
A tweet that I came across this morning said, “Menstrual leave? This is infantilising not empowerment. How can people ask for this & expect the same salary or expect industry to hire women Use regular sick leave! Many suffer from debilitating migraines. Special leave? Many have stress issues. Special leave? Where does it end?”
But is it right to compare menstrual pain to migraine or stress? Is it right to disguise menstrual leave as sick leaves? Is it right to assume that menstrual leave is the reason why women are not hired?
Research has proved that menstrual pain is as equally debilitating as a heart attack. Menstrual leave will help women to cope with complicated diseases like (PCOD), endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and mood disorders. More than half of the women experience pain during menstruation. Around 25 million women suffer from Endometriosis in India. According to research by the women’s health App, 33 per cent of women App users suffer from irregular menstruation problems like Polycystic Ovary Disorder (PCOD).
Even if we out-rule menstrual leave as exceptional cases, it doesn’t make sense to hide it under sick leaves. Considering menstrual leave as sick leaves ignores the different experiences that women face from regular illness. It points out the taboo around menstruation and that no one wants to talk about in open. When maternity leave can be discussed, then why not menstrual leave which again differentiates women from men?
It is an undeniable fact that women are biologically different from men. But this doesn’t mean that they are weaker, disadvantaged or marginalised. The efficacy and the knowledge required to perform any task are equal for all genders. It is not that women do not have certain skills just because of their sex. So assuming that the menstrual leave policy will reduce women’s participation in the workforce is a flawed idea. It is as much necessary as maternity leave. When women can be provided with maternity leave and still be hired, then why women with menstrual leaves? Menstruation affects the efficacy of performing work but doesn’t reduce knowledge and capability.
As far as the fact that women are generally not hired because of the leaves that they demand, it shows the sexism prevalent in work culture. It is not the fault of women seeking their birthright but of the work culture that is wired into believing that women are not as good as men. Only if this blindfold is opened that work cultures will be more accepting towards women.
Spain's Menstrual Leave Policy
Another tweet that attracted my attention was, “What it comes down to - in Spain, it's not a mandatory leave. Women can take it IF they want. They still need to show a doctor's note. The government will foot the bill for days lost. So businesses will have no incentive to exclude women from the workforce” This clearly shows that there is no reason why employers should not hire women. It shows that menstrual leave in no way affects the company's business. Making menstrual leave a choice will help women and the company to evolve from the core.
So there is a need to carefully create menstrual leave policies and implement it properly. Rather than ignoring menstrual leave as a sexist approach, we need to accept it as a part of women’s biology which differentiates them from men but doesn’t make them incapable.
Views expressed are the author's own.
Suggested Readings: Menstrual Leave Policy: Where Do Other Countries Stand?