Spain is set to become the first Western country to implement monthly menstrual leave. Women who suffer from menstrual pain are set to receive a maximum of three days a month. Other countries that already grant menstrual leave include Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Zambia.
The draft reform is put forward to allow women with severe menstrual pain (also known as dysmenorrhea) the time to recuperate at home. John Hopkins Medicine reports that dysmenorrhea may include cramping or pain in the lower abdomen, lower back pain, pain leading down the legs, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, fainting, or headaches. These symptoms should not be dismissed for women who are menstruating, claims Angela Rodriguez, the Secretary of State for Equality and against Gender Violence in Spain.
As the Daily Mail reports, Rodriguez told Spanish newspaper EL Periodico that when such symptoms appear in other illnesses, “a temporary disability is granted, therefore the same should happen with menstruation and [if] there is the possibility that a woman has a very painful period, she can stay home.”
According to the Spanish Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society, around one-third of women who menstruate suffer dysmenorrhea, with that proportion rising if pre-menstrual pain is also counted, according to a similar article in the Telegraph.
The proposed reform doesn’t just focus on menstrual pain, but also other menstrual health concerns. Sanitary pads and tampons will be provided to schools for girls who need them, and will also be provided free to women in marginalised social circumstances. In response to a long-standing demand from women in Spain, VAT will now also be removed from prices of sanitary pads and tampons in supermarkets.
“The rights related to menstrual health have never been discussed and the data is chilling,” Rodríguez told El Periodico. “One in four women cannot choose the feminine hygiene products she wants to buy for financial reasons. That is why we propose that they can be dispensed free of charge in educational and social centers.”
Another matter included in the reform is the change in abortion policies. Current laws require 16 and 17-year-olds to have parental permission if they want to have an abortion. The Spanish government plans to remove this requirement and to allow safe access to abortion procedures in public hospitals.
In South Africa, there has been a few public discussions about menstrual leave, but there are no signs that this will be introduced anytime soon. In an IOL article from 2016, it was reported that Cindy Norcott, the owner of Pro Appointments recruitment agency in Durban, did not think the policy would work in South Africa. One of her concerns was that women could “take advantage of their sick leave.”
Norcott also mentioned that menstrual leave could result in a higher risk of discrimination against women. “I believe that if this leave were to come into effect, women would certainly be at a disadvantage as employers would want to hire staff that are at work and contributing to the business every day. It could make employers nervous to hire women as they might take their allocation of period leave,” she added.
A BusinessTech article echoed this concern. Safiyyah Buckas, an associate at Norton Rose Fulbright at the time, explained that “the introduction of such a policy may weaken the position of women in the workplace by discouraging certain employers from hiring women due to the associated costs of paid menstrual leave; fear of abuse of such leave; as well as the negative effect on productivity, where female employees require days of leave at a time.
“Additionally, such a policy may go unused for this very reason and/or for fear of having to label leave as ‘period leave’ for fear of social stigma, especially in predominantly male work environments.”
The introduction of menstrual leave policies by Spain is revolutionary for Western countries. It might encourage more countries to do the same, hopefully leaving discrimination and marginalisation at the door.