Should your organisation consider menstrual leave?


Dysmenorrhea (painful periods) is estimated to occur in 20 per cent to 90 per cent of women of reproductive age but the issue of whether organisations and countries should consider menstrual leave is controversial.

It will come as a surprise to many that there are already a lot of countries, particularly in east Asia, that offer menstrual leave. Japan has had it on the books since the 40’s but they’ve since been joined by South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. Even some provinces in China offer it.

However if it were to be adopted in Australia it’s worth taking a look at Italy, which is currently considering mandating three days paid leave per month for a woman suffering from painful periods.

The issue has tended to polarise debate. The Italian edition of Marie Claire, called it “a standard-bearer of progress and social sustainability.” On the other side, commentators have said that it might exacerbate the country’s problems with sexism. 

According to the OECD, Italy has the lowest female workforce participation rate among high income economies. Added to the already very generous maternity leave (five months at 80 per cent pay) and leave for tending to sick children, Annalisa Merelli in Quartz argues that the proposed menstrual leave will make employers more wary of hiring women. While others just think it’s a bad idea and that women don’t merit a special privilege.

In fact, the arguments for menstrual leave can even be sexist. It’s been suggested that misapprehensions about the relationship menstruation has with motherhood was the reason for Japan’s initial adoption (essentially, if women didn’t rest during their period they wouldn’t get pregnant). And in Russia, a lawmaker proposed a menstrual leave bill that contained this passage: “Strong pain induces heightened fatigue, reduces memory and work-competence and leads to colourful expressions of emotional discomfort.”

What’s more, in the countries that have menstrual leave, there are reports that women are afraid of using it because it could be seen as a sign of weakness, that it might “antagonise male colleagues” or “lead to sexual harassment”.

Should Australia offer it?

One of the arguments against having a national policy in this country is that we have mandated paid personal leave, whereas most countries where menstrual leave is offered, such as Taiwan, don’t. And while it’s true that for the minority of women who experience debilitating period pain the current allotment of personal leave is sufficient, the issue is a little more complicated than that. 

As Bex Baxter the director of Coexist, a British company that has a period leave policy, explained to the Guardian, “If someone is in pain – no matter what kind – they are encouraged to go home. But, for us, we wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body’s natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness.” That sounds positive but some feminists have criticised Coexist’s policy for the negative and incorrect assumptions it could encourage.

A few weeks ago the Victorian Women’s trust made waves in the media when they announced their menstrual leave policy, and provided a template which they encourage other Australian organisations to adopt. It aims for flexibility and provides options such as working from home, working in a different office space (in a quieter area), as well as the possibility of paid leave.

But it’s unlikely many organisations will adopt it. Whether or not the notion of menstrual leave begins with questions about physiological discomfort and pain, it always ends in a discussion about gender. And that discussion is more complicated than an HR policy about health.

Indeed, many women have argued that a complication of offering menstrual leave is the harm it might do to gender equality. In an article for the Conversation last year, senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne Lauren Rosewarne wrote, “Assumptions about women’s bodies, about women’s emotional stability, about their strength and capabilities, have long been barriers to many professions and a reminder of fecundity (read: maternity leave). I suspect, therefore, that actively creating policies based on difference – in a climate where true equality still remains a pipe dream – is probably a step in the wrong direction.”

What do you think? Does your organisation have policies around this issue? HRM would be interested to hear your views.

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Rosemary
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Rosemary

Of all the issues women have to face in the workplace I cannot believe valuable time is being spent on this topic. I listened to an interview with a spokesperson from Victorian Women’s Trust and I found their arguments unconvincing. I believe it would harm rather than aid the gender equity cause. It would also be an unbearable strain on small business and, sadly open to abuse. Let’s get the other stuff, like equal pay, sorted first.

Yvonne Walker
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Yvonne Walker

What a load of rubbish. Take some pain meds as I, and other women of my generation and older, always have. Are we getting soft or what!!!

Sharlene
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Sharlene

As a female who also suffered many years of dysmenorrhea, and who still has occasional lapses of significant pain, I must admit that my response to this suggestion was to roll my eyes, not because I think that we should not care about the reality of such pain but because as many have noted, having a special leave only adds to division and discrimination. And what about other suffers of conditions that can produce intense and excruciating pain, eg migraines, cluster headaches, fibromyalgia, etc? Do they get specially allocated leave as well, or only women with dysmenorrhea? and in that… Read more »

Joanna Zolnierkiewicz
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Joanna Zolnierkiewicz

I think this is really unnecessary and wasting resources on solving a non-existing problem. Personal Leave is there to be used in any such cases.

Sheila Baker
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Sheila Baker

First Domestic Violence Leave, now menstrual leave. Will it be menopause leave next? How many more excuses do you want for employers not to hire women? Personal Leave surely will cover it without giving women 3 days every month to pander to their hormonal issues. Why don’t we just get on with the job. Or stop having discussion about productivity. How it can possibly be argued that this could in any way be a productivity booster is beyond me. 3 days is the better part of a week. This discussion offends me as both a business owner (with an all-female… Read more »

More on HRM

Should your organisation consider menstrual leave?


Dysmenorrhea (painful periods) is estimated to occur in 20 per cent to 90 per cent of women of reproductive age but the issue of whether organisations and countries should consider menstrual leave is controversial.

It will come as a surprise to many that there are already a lot of countries, particularly in east Asia, that offer menstrual leave. Japan has had it on the books since the 40’s but they’ve since been joined by South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. Even some provinces in China offer it.

However if it were to be adopted in Australia it’s worth taking a look at Italy, which is currently considering mandating three days paid leave per month for a woman suffering from painful periods.

The issue has tended to polarise debate. The Italian edition of Marie Claire, called it “a standard-bearer of progress and social sustainability.” On the other side, commentators have said that it might exacerbate the country’s problems with sexism. 

According to the OECD, Italy has the lowest female workforce participation rate among high income economies. Added to the already very generous maternity leave (five months at 80 per cent pay) and leave for tending to sick children, Annalisa Merelli in Quartz argues that the proposed menstrual leave will make employers more wary of hiring women. While others just think it’s a bad idea and that women don’t merit a special privilege.

In fact, the arguments for menstrual leave can even be sexist. It’s been suggested that misapprehensions about the relationship menstruation has with motherhood was the reason for Japan’s initial adoption (essentially, if women didn’t rest during their period they wouldn’t get pregnant). And in Russia, a lawmaker proposed a menstrual leave bill that contained this passage: “Strong pain induces heightened fatigue, reduces memory and work-competence and leads to colourful expressions of emotional discomfort.”

What’s more, in the countries that have menstrual leave, there are reports that women are afraid of using it because it could be seen as a sign of weakness, that it might “antagonise male colleagues” or “lead to sexual harassment”.

Should Australia offer it?

One of the arguments against having a national policy in this country is that we have mandated paid personal leave, whereas most countries where menstrual leave is offered, such as Taiwan, don’t. And while it’s true that for the minority of women who experience debilitating period pain the current allotment of personal leave is sufficient, the issue is a little more complicated than that. 

As Bex Baxter the director of Coexist, a British company that has a period leave policy, explained to the Guardian, “If someone is in pain – no matter what kind – they are encouraged to go home. But, for us, we wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body’s natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness.” That sounds positive but some feminists have criticised Coexist’s policy for the negative and incorrect assumptions it could encourage.

A few weeks ago the Victorian Women’s trust made waves in the media when they announced their menstrual leave policy, and provided a template which they encourage other Australian organisations to adopt. It aims for flexibility and provides options such as working from home, working in a different office space (in a quieter area), as well as the possibility of paid leave.

But it’s unlikely many organisations will adopt it. Whether or not the notion of menstrual leave begins with questions about physiological discomfort and pain, it always ends in a discussion about gender. And that discussion is more complicated than an HR policy about health.

Indeed, many women have argued that a complication of offering menstrual leave is the harm it might do to gender equality. In an article for the Conversation last year, senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne Lauren Rosewarne wrote, “Assumptions about women’s bodies, about women’s emotional stability, about their strength and capabilities, have long been barriers to many professions and a reminder of fecundity (read: maternity leave). I suspect, therefore, that actively creating policies based on difference – in a climate where true equality still remains a pipe dream – is probably a step in the wrong direction.”

What do you think? Does your organisation have policies around this issue? HRM would be interested to hear your views.

17
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Rosemary
Guest
Rosemary

Of all the issues women have to face in the workplace I cannot believe valuable time is being spent on this topic. I listened to an interview with a spokesperson from Victorian Women’s Trust and I found their arguments unconvincing. I believe it would harm rather than aid the gender equity cause. It would also be an unbearable strain on small business and, sadly open to abuse. Let’s get the other stuff, like equal pay, sorted first.

Yvonne Walker
Guest
Yvonne Walker

What a load of rubbish. Take some pain meds as I, and other women of my generation and older, always have. Are we getting soft or what!!!

Sharlene
Guest
Sharlene

As a female who also suffered many years of dysmenorrhea, and who still has occasional lapses of significant pain, I must admit that my response to this suggestion was to roll my eyes, not because I think that we should not care about the reality of such pain but because as many have noted, having a special leave only adds to division and discrimination. And what about other suffers of conditions that can produce intense and excruciating pain, eg migraines, cluster headaches, fibromyalgia, etc? Do they get specially allocated leave as well, or only women with dysmenorrhea? and in that… Read more »

Joanna Zolnierkiewicz
Guest
Joanna Zolnierkiewicz

I think this is really unnecessary and wasting resources on solving a non-existing problem. Personal Leave is there to be used in any such cases.

Sheila Baker
Guest
Sheila Baker

First Domestic Violence Leave, now menstrual leave. Will it be menopause leave next? How many more excuses do you want for employers not to hire women? Personal Leave surely will cover it without giving women 3 days every month to pander to their hormonal issues. Why don’t we just get on with the job. Or stop having discussion about productivity. How it can possibly be argued that this could in any way be a productivity booster is beyond me. 3 days is the better part of a week. This discussion offends me as both a business owner (with an all-female… Read more »

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