Well, there’s a line you’ve probably never said word-for-word on the phone to your boss. If you have suffered with particularly painful periods or related symptoms, you will probably have had to take time off, although just how honest you’ve been in admitting why may vary.
A study by the British Medical Journal found that only one in five women are honest with their employers when they phone in sick for reasons relating to menstruation and that on average, women lose nine days a year of productivity due to presenteeism during their period – that is, showing up to work, school or college, and not being able to function as usual because of it. In the UK, pain or associated symptoms thanks to Aunt Flo are catered for with standard sickness leave, but elsewhere in the world, specific ‘Period Leave’ allows those who menstruate to take time off when they need it.
This may sound like a pretty ‘woke’ 21st century concept, but unfortunately its origins are not quite as well-meaning. There’s evidence of some schools in Asia giving girls days off monthly since 1912, but this appears to be due to poor hygiene facilities and discriminatory religious practices against menstruating females. The idea was also bandied about in the 1920s across the Soviet Union as a way of ‘protecting’ women’s ability to be mothers ; but of course, hoping women will procreate should never be the sole reason for looking after their health! Eyeroll, Lenin. Indeed it seems not to have been written into law anywhere quite that early on, but it’s certainly not a new practice.
In Japan, the concept of Menstrual Leave for the female workforce has existed since the 1930s. Factory workers had been granted specific Period Leave to give them a break from the harsh working conditions and poor sanitary facilities they experienced, but it wasn’t until World War II ended that it became a right for female employees in all industries who suffered with “especially difficult” periods. At first, it was pretty popular – with reported take-up of the time off at just over 25% in the 60s – but usage rates declined steadily as time went on. The last survey of the working population in Japan took place in 2017, at which time just 0.9% of employees who menstruated used it as an option. The reasons for this are likely varied, but as well as increasing painkiller strength available over-the-counter, improving healthcare, and a wider variety of remedies available to ease symptoms, it’s also worth remembering that a cultural aspect needs to be considered – with many people finding telling their male managers that they’re menstruating uncomfortable and simply not wanting to do it.
In South Korea, the practice was adopted in the 50s, but usage of the leave has fallen greatly there too. Indonesia allows those who menstruate to have two days of Period Leave a month, and in Taiwan, three days of such leave are allowed per year outside of standard sickness allowance (written in part of the country’s Gender Equality Act). Zambia is the most recent country to adopt the practice of Period Leave and allows a full day each month, known as ‘Mother’s Day’.
Some provinces of China and India also allow specific similar time off, and some companies have elected to write it into their individual HR policies.
Just how effective and how appropriate menstrual leave is for employees is debated. Some people believe it to be a necessary equality concession, whilst others believe it highlights women’s already stigmatised professional abilities to employers who may discriminate against them further. Whilst the rates of usage in countries where such leave is law remains low (and often declining), anyone whose suffered with painful periods or related symptoms will appreciate the comfort some leniency and understanding from their employer could bring. Yet the whole concept falls apart if talking about menstruation isn’t widely accepted and commonplace, because it seems as though not enough people will admit to needing the provision in place anyway.
What do you think? Comment below and let’s start the period chat!
The header image of this blog was taken by Erol Ahmed for Unsplash.