Is this your first reaction when you hear “menstrual leave”?
It’s not very prevalent (if at all) in Singapore, but here’s a list of countries that have actual laws for menstrual leave:
- Indonesia: women have the right of two days of menstrual leave per month.
- Japan: menstrual leave has been in place for almost 7 decades.
- Korea: not only do women have paid menstrual leave, they are also entitled to additional pay if they choose to work instead of taking menstrual leave.
- Taiwan: women have 3 extra days of menstrual leave per year which adds on to the normal 30 days of sick leave.
Other countries don’t have official laws in place yet:
- Philippines: the House Bill 4888 aimed to grant menstrual leave to female employees in both the public and private sector at half pay, excluding those menopausal and pregnant.
- Hong Kong and UK: there are no laws regarding menstrual leave, but some companies have menstrual leave policies.
- Russia: there was a draft law in 2013 proposing to give women 2 days of menstrual leave per month.
It’s interesting how most of the companies that have implemented menstrual leave laws are Asian countries, given the Asian culture’s relatively more conservative nature. People don’t just openly talk about periods and the difficulties it imposes.
*Gasp* Is that precisely why laws are in place? So that women don’t suffer from period suffering being a taboo topic?
Anyhow, that’s not the main point. The question is: is menstrual leave amazing or is it a terrible idea?
A Terrible Idea
Oh where do I start.
The main argument against menstrual leave is that it will create discrimination against women, if there isn’t already. From a man’s point of view who doesn’t suffer from menstrual anything, letting women be entitled to a few more days of leave is unfair! Besides, how bad can menstruation really get?
Although that sounds really insensitive, he’s not entirely wrong. Not ALL women experience terrible menstrual symptoms, and a number of women are completely fine even when they’re on their period. It’s just a little blood that’s all. Lucky you.
So wouldn’t it be unfair if these lucky women get menstrual leave too? Double lucky.
I mean if I was a woman who suffers from terrible symptoms I’d be annoyed too. It’s instinctive human nature to exploit whatever you can get.
And as an inherent bias against women increases, it manifests in the form of larger wage gaps, discrimination in the workplace, devaluing of women, viewing women as weak etc.
Another reason why menstrual leave is a bad idea is simply because it won’t work due to social stigma. Which is exactly the result of the inherent bias against women.
Why would a woman want to let her whole office or department know that she’s on her period? Especially if her boss is a male…
An Amazing Idea
On the other hand, the first thought of a woman who really suffers from cramps and other symptoms would definitely be that it is an amazing idea. And rightly so!
Women go through the menstrual cycle as a natural process. It’s not something that we choose to impose on ourselves to be purposely put at a ‘disadvantage’. Have you any idea what some women go through every month? It’s terrifying! Since it’s part of nature that we are made this way, and men are not, it’s like a right that we should be able to have leave on days where we are really suffering without having to use our normal sick leave, leaving us less days off for when we fall ill.
Especially for those who really suffer.
Of course, when everything hurts and we’re dying, we can’t work productively. But we already discussed why menstrual leave can be such a bad idea. So then, why not create a flexible framework where women can work around our unproductive periods?
Facilitating Periods In The Workplace
In my honest opinion, sometimes having just menstrual leave alone sounds like an easy way out. We have gender rights in our office because we provide menstrual leave! Hooray!
The issue is so much more complex than that. And of course, menstrual leave is definitely one of the ways we can help women. I’m not discounting that, and kudos to the countries that actually BOTHERED to do something about it through their laws and policies.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to be about taking leave every month. It could simply be creating a workplace environment that is more friendly for women.
Have period facilities and policies for women!
Have resting areas and lounges for women to take a break. And not only women will benefit, all employees can have access to it too. Bean bags, blankets, sofas, carpets. Sometimes all we need is a short half an hour break to rest, relax and recharge and get back to work.
Provide easily accessible welfare. Heat is a simple and effective remedy for cramps, so providing heat packs like MenstruHeat can provide some relief and comfort for women to continue working while having cramps. Provide teas (here and here) and healthy snacks in the pantry. Provide chocolate too!
Create an understanding and open culture. In a sense, I guess the company could be comparable to a boyfriend taking care of his girlfriend while she’s on her period. It’s about the mindset towards periods that matters. An understanding and open culture is important in discussing women’s needs, meeting their needs in a reasonable way, reaching compromises, and making sure that the facilities and policies are actually utilised without any attachment of social stigma. Have policies to allow women to rest in office when they have cramps? Make sure that the culture and environment allows her to do so too.
This leads on to the WHY.
Why even care?
A company needs to do well. Gain profit. Have effective and efficient employees.
Wouldn’t giving all these benefits and welfare mean less productivity?
Actually, I don’t think so. A woman suffering during her period is not going to be at 100% productivity levels anyway. It’s about maximising productivity with the given circumstances. If a company provides for her needs, she can work her schedule and deadlines around the periods where she feels most productive, then do whatever she needs to recuperate from her unproductive periods quickly.
Also, if a workplace blatantly offers so much support for women, then she is socially obliged to make every effort to come to work and/or be as productive as possible. Because she has less occasions to take leave or be a helpless, unproductive bleeding blob at work. I mean, this is if you really want to do be all business about it.
Generally, when an employees’ welfare are cared for, they are happier, and therefore will be more productive at work. Everybody wins! 🙂
There will always be the few people who want to exploit the system. It’s not just in menstrual policies, it’s everywhere. So I don’t think that’s a good reason for not doing anything about this. That’s like saying you won’t try any medicine to cure your illness because they all have side effects. Whaaaaaat.
The most important thing is working environment and culture. Many companies are driven by performance, but sometimes we forget that the people delivering the performance are humans too, not just performance producing robots. So when we take care of our employees, we take care of our company’s performance too.
It could be menstrual leave. It could be giving facilities and providing a caring culture. It could be one, or all, or two of them.
Let’s hope that more workplaces will be friendlier to their female employees. One small step for one company could translate to a huge leap for the economy!