Corporate businesses need to be re-educated about menstruation, reframe its purpose and allow women to be women without any stigma to give period leave days to women.
Recently legalized menstrual leave has been making headlines around the world. In fact, women in Japan, Korea and a few other countries are allowed to request work off days when they’re on their period.
In theory, this sounds like a good idea. Firstly, it opens up the conversation about menstruation. Secondly, it legitimizes women’s pain, something which has been deeply misunderstood in the past and thirdly it allows women to simply rest and recuperate when they need to.
A policy that affords women suffering extreme period pain one or two days off work, already exists in several countries around the world, but has been widely criticized as counterproductive, often reinforcing negative stereotypes of female workers.
Yet women now make up nearly 40% of the global workforce and up to 20% of women experience extreme cramps at the onset of a period a condition called dysmenorrhea, which is intense enough to derail their daily lives. For these women, menstrual leave might represent relief, but not if it holds them back professionally. So how do we make it work?
What studies show?
Some studies have shown that the symptoms associated with periods impair the ability of female employees to give quality output at work.
During that period of menstruation, most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort. The pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to give period leave days to women than calling an ambulance which is costly.
Give period leave days to women because of painful cramping, backache, headache, moodiness, fatigue and bloating for many women that time of the month is miserable enough to be categorized as an acute illness. Bad news if they’re working women with deadlines and bills to pay.
Even some doctors sympathize so much that they are advocating companies provide female employees with additional days off, also known as paid monthly menstrual leave. They believe providing this time off in addition to sick days could help boost women’s productivity and happiness in the workplace.
They believe it’s reasonable for female employees to be allowed at least one, if not three, days off per month. Some people may be laughing but these doctors are serious about their opinion.
Some women feel really grotty when menstruating. Coming into work is a struggle and they feel lousy, they told I-Watch. “When you feel like that, it’s harder to take pride in your work or perform as well. This is about employers being sensible and aware.”
The idea that menstruation is dirty, shameful and unmentionable, can keep girls and women away from school and out of the workforce. For example, a woman without access to sanitary products may have to stay at home during her period, while a garment worker risks losing her job for getting up to change her pad before break time, although, there are facilities for her to manage her menstruation during breaks hence the importance to give period leave days to women.
Even women working in office environments with conveniently located toilets and flexible schedules go to great lengths to hide periods: relatively few researchers have explored how knowledge that a woman is on her period affects her public perception, but one 2002 study suggested that people viewed tampon-toting women as less competent, less likeable and physically off-putting.
If open conversation erodes taboos, period leave at least offers one way to get people talking. The challenge is finding a way to implement it that isn’t detrimental to women’s participation in the workforce.
Period pains often feel like a person is cutting through your midriff with a power saw and turning your insides upside down using a grinder! Trust me, it’s that bad and even worse in some cases. Understanding the biological setup of women can be complicated. Whereas some women experience mild pain during their period, some undergo several hours of painful cramps. I know quite a number of women dependent on painkillers to manage period pain. Some prefer to hibernate in their safe spaces for those long four or nine days for the period storm to cool down.
The common symptoms of period pain are; migraines, general body fatigue, stomach cramps, and profuse sweating. These symptoms do not classify periods as a disease, however, when coupled together, they are a recipe for reduced work productivity among women. Some have shown that the symptoms associated with periods impair the ability of female employees to give quality output at work. This is in most instances associated with the divided attention given to the allotted tasks. This is why the discourse on period leave days for female employees is integral.
Amplify period leave.
The World Health Organization and International Labour Organization should set the pace for countries to curate policies that amplify and respect this unique struggle of women. Japan has a longstanding policy on period leave for women that requires employers not to employ women for whom work during their period would be difficult. This precedence should be taken up by corporates and NGOs to amplify the period leave discussion, to water down period shame. In Sub-Saharan Africa, period leave for women can be a good starting point for creating an inclusive and enabling workspace for women.
Some people have said that period leave will automatically make women the weaker gender in the workplace. Considering the adverse effects period pain has on work output, should female employees get period leave days? Should women brave period challenges without expecting leave days?
Menstrual cycle, period, moon time, blob, crimson wave, Aunty Flo or time of the month, whatever you call it, periods are a part of everyday life for billions of women around the world.
Despite this fact, they still aren’t commonly talked about in the workplace. You might see colleagues exchanging tampons like they’re some kind of illicit drug or give a female colleague a knowing smile as she fills up her hot water bottle for the third time in a row but you’ll rarely hear it openly talked about in the staff canteen or around the table during working hours.
And why not? If we are comfortable talking about our raging hay fever or sore tonsils, why do we feel so chronically uncomfortable talking about a natural part of our lives and healthcare? Of course, it’s down to years of being taught that they are shameful, dirty and completely unprofessional.
Throughout our schooling and work lives, women are subconsciously taught not to talk about their periods in a professional setting. It’s a topic that is only safe to discuss amongst close friends at least five feet away from the nearest male. But maybe the times are finally changing and give period leave days to women.
Naming the problem boldly and proudly and with no embarrassment is the way to address stigma and it can take a long time but women must be involved.
It’s pretty clear that there needs to be an attitude shift. The problem isn’t women having periods, it’s some employers’ attitude towards them. Some employers want periods to remain an issue that is not seen or heard. They expect women to work through the pain, to simply grin and bear it. In reality, a good employer knows that their workers will do a much better job if they aren’t doubled over in pain. So give period leave days to women.
Whether menstrual leave is the answer is unclear, but at least it legitimizes period pain and gives women the choice to take time off or not.
These sorts of policies cannot be designed by men for women. The affected people always must be in forefront to participate in demanding, propagating, designing, implementing and monitoring a program around menstruation. Again here, women need to be involved.
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