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Bill granting paid menstrual-leave for severe period pain before Spanish cabinet

Spain is poised to become the first European country entitling women experiencing severe period pain to monthly menstrual leave, reports BBC News. A draft Bill due to be presented to the Spanish cabinet this week includes a clause entitling women who experience severe period pain to have three days of sick leave each month, which could be extended to five in some circumstances.

The three days' off would be permitted only with a doctor's note, the draft says, potentially extending to five on a temporary basis for particularly intense or incapacitating pain. But it is not expected to apply to those who suffer mild discomfort.

However, politicians have warned that the draft, leaked to Spanish media outlets, was still being worked on.

Menstrual leave has existed in various forms around the world for at least a century: the Soviet Union introduced a national policy in 1922, Japan in 1947 and Indonesia in 1948. But it’s still rare in many large global economies, including the US.

The BBC adds that now, however, a movement endorsing it is growing, as more and more companies around the world are starting to introduce the benefit.

The Italian parliament had put forth a similar period leave proposal in 2017, which sparked extensive discussion around whether it might increase workplace discrimination. The bid ultimately failed to progress, reports Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW), which added that only a handful of countries – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Zambia – currently have national policy frameworks which grant paid menstrual leave.

DW said in European countries with generous leave policies, it’s not common to cite menstruation as the reason for taking time off. In the Netherlands, a 2019 survey of more than 30,000 Dutch women found that although 14% had taken time off work during their period, only 20% provided the true reason.

Various menstruation studies have outlined the benefits and drawbacks of menstrual leave in the workplace. Negative implications included “perpetuating sexist beliefs and attitudes, contributing to menstrual stigma and perpetuating gender stereotypes, negatively impacting the gendered wage gap, and reinforcing the medicalisation of menstruation”.

Such negative gender stereotypes include female fragility, unproductivity and unreliability, while “medicalisation of menstruation” negatively portrays menstruation as a disease that needs “fixing”, one paper said.

However, if the policy is widely introduced, women, transgender and non-binary workers who menstruate stand to gain: they would have direct pathways to rest when they need it most, be happier and more productive at work as a result and find it easier to remain in the labour market.

Most women try to push through the pain and discomfort and go to work, anyway. This is often because they feel reluctant to disclose menstrual-related symptoms to their superiors, for fear of being perceived as weak or incapable of doing their jobs, says Gabrielle Golding, a senior lecturer at South Australia’s Adelaide Law School.

Judy Birch, who runs the UK-based Pelvic Pain Support Network, is among billions of women who suffer from severe menstruation symptoms, adds the BBC. Called dysmenorrhea, this could include heavy bleeding, severe cramping and fatigue; or even nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

According to one comprehensive review of studies, up to 91% of women in reproductive age suffer from dysmenorrhea, including severe pain in among up to 29%. It is is severe enough to interfere with the daily activities of up to 20% of women, says the American Academy of Family Physicians.


BBC News article – Spain plans menstrual leave in new law for those with severe pain (Open access)


BBC News article – More and more companies are answering the call to provide period leave – yet some critics remain sceptical (Open access)


DW article – Menstrual leave: A blessing or a curse? (Open access)


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