Menstrual Leave becomes a mainstream debate
The taboos around menstrual leave and cycles are being lifted
Why we are talking about women and their periods in the menstrual leave debate.
The taboo around talking about women's menstrual cycles is being lifted to become a mainstream debate on menstrual leave. Gone is the "Red Tent" concept where women on their monthly cycle in Biblical times traditionally spent time segregated from the rest of the community. It also leaves behind the sotte voce whispers and sniggers about "monthlies" and "being on." But do we really need legislation to support what is essentially a very routine part of the female biological cycle? The reality is that many people, both men and women, live with different levels of pain and discomfort and learn to manage it.
Culture Machine, a Mumbai based media company, has introduced First Day of Period, a program that allows women to take the first day of their monthly cycles as paid leave. The initiative aims to promote a female friendly workplace.
In March 2017, Italy's parliament weighed giving women an official menstrual leave. Interestingly both India and Italy have strong patriarchal cultures. Italy has one of the lowest rates of female worker participation in Europe - only 61 %, well below the European average of 72 percent - and there is fear that this move would only serve to jeopardise the progress of women by adding an extra factor which embeds unconscious bias. The fear is there would be even further difficulties to hire and promote women. Japanese and South Korean women already benefit from a similar law and some companies, including Nike, have also introduced the idea of 'menstrual leave'.
So what about the women in the street. How do they feel? I asked two of my friends:
Madeleine is a Middle School English teacher in her 50s.
I never had any problems with either my periods or the menopause. I think I would be annoyed if female colleagues had routinely taken 3 days a month off to nurse themselves through their period. I think it would be a retrograde step for women in general in the workplace. If a woman's period pains are so bad she loses 36 days a year of her life she should seek medical help. Menopause was more challenging for me, so perhaps leave benefits should apply to older women too. But before long women in their 40s and 50s will be treated with suspicion and penalised not just younger ones at entry-level.
Chuenchai is 32 an Account Manager in an advertising agency
I have always suffered from dysmenorrhea since my periods started at the age of 12. My cycle which is irregular gives me acute pelvic pain, headaches, nausea and even hot and cold sweats. Some days I struggle to get up and feel profoundly uncomfortable because my flow is very heavy. I feel as if I am hemorrhaging. I don't need 3 days off in my cycle but benefit from flexible working. I would never discuss the real reason with my boss because it would give him ammunition against me. I go to yoga and have had a course of acupuncture which I have found helpful.
So perhaps the debate shouldn't be around sick leave, but educating men to understand and empathise what it means to have a period. Just like the simulated labor pains for men something should be done around menstrual cycles. Watch, learn and weep!
Perhaps another thought would be that men could to find out exactly what happens during a menstrual cycle. Read here. Another video in the making?
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