We want menstrual leave for all!
In December 2022, Spain passed a bill creating menstrual leave for all women who suffer from painful periods. What's the rest of the world doing?
Charlotte Minvielle, Head of Business Development
Every month, from adolescence till menopause. For a few days or a week. Excruciating or just painful. We all have our period.
There are mornings when cramps, stomachache, tiredness due to the lack of sleep seize me. When I have a crucial appointment or work meeting, like many of us, I dread that my period will fall at that moment.
And again, I’m lucky to be one of those for whom they are bearable. I don't have endometriosis. And they only last for a few days.
For some girls, women and people who menstruate, getting out of bed, getting dressed, and getting to work during this time is an ordeal. How do you care for a patient in hospital, traverse a factory floor, or deliver an important presentation to a client when pain prevents you from concentrating, standing up, or even speaking?
In Indonesia, women are allowed two days of menstrual leave a month within their sick leave. In Taiwan three extra days a year are granted for menstruation on top of the statutory 30, whilst Zambia has a legal entitlement to a day off a month for menstrual leave.
In Japan, a law saying those experiencing a difficult menstruation period should be given time off has existed since 1947 but it does not have to be paid leave. And while the uptake was relatively high at first with around 26% in 1965, a 2017 government survey found that only 0.9% of female employees claimed it.
The same can be seen in South Korea where women have the right to claim leave during their period but the use has dropped from 23.6% in 2013 to 19.7% in 2017 as extra pay is given to those who do not take it.
Cultural norms and workplace pressure prevent women from retrieving the leave. Both Japan and South Korea have some of the highest gender pay gaps in the OECD and some of the lowest shares of female managers.
It’s worth noting that companies can also choose to put in place a menstrual leave policy to attract and retain their female employees by making a statement about caring for their wellbeing. While some Indian states have adopted it, the Indian food delivery company Zomato for example has rolled it out nationally. The announcement was significant in a country which has one of the lowest female participation rates in the workforce at 35% and where girls typically miss 20% of the school year because of their period.
On 15 December, Spanish MPs passed a bill creating menstrual leave for all women who suffer from painful periods. The bill received 190 votes in favour, 154 against and 5 abstentions. If it’s voted on in the senate and ultimately put in place, it will be a first in Europe.
A survey of Dutch women from 2019 found that 14% had taken time off from work or school during their period and only 20% gave the real reason. In France, two thirds of women are now in favour of menstrual leave.
For a health system to be fair, feminist, and equitable, it must take menstrual health seriously and address the challenges that arise with painful periods. Every country has work to do in this area, from access to menstrual hygiene and toilet facilities, to making period products available and affordable.
Despite challenges around implementation and access to this right for all workers, legislation around menstrual leave matters. Today Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Zambian, and soon Spanish women, are entitled to it, why not for all?