It’s a typical Sunday afternoon and you’re in the middle of finishing up some coursework due Monday. Suddenly you’re washed over with malaise and exhaustion. At first, you think it’s just the end of weekend blues, but then it hits you, a sharp pain in your abdominal region. Urgh, of course, low and behold, your period has arrived. And of course, it had to choose the busiest and most stressful week of the month.
Sound familiar? If not, this is merely a brief glimpse into the monthly struggles of numerous menstruators.
Before I continue, I would just like to explain the significance of using the term “menstruator” to describe those who experience periods as opposed to simply saying, women. “Menstruator” is a gender-neutral term that is more inclusive of people who menstruate but do not identify as a woman and women who do not menstruate.
As someone who got her period very early, it’s been a never-ending battle, especially during exam season. Do I get a cramp-free week to cram or do I need to rely on Tylenol to get me through the week? If we were bleeding around 15mL per day from any other part of our bodies, it is highly likely that we would be given paid sick leave or exempted from schoolwork. I think this is especially true for younger children. It is mind blowing to think that a bleeding ten-year-old with excruciating cramps has to come to class and pretend everything is normal (and TMI, but I was that 10 y/o… and I’m sure many of you can relate to this…).
I believe there would be enormous benefits to having menstrual leave and exemption from assessments for school and post-secondary students. While there are people who experience little to no side effects during their period, there are also people who have terrible side effects. And, let's be real, have we actually been sick every time we’ve claimed to be sick? Probably not. That being said, considering how many people this could help, I think it is worth running the risk of having some people “misuse” the option.
Now, more about paid menstrual leave. There are a handful of countries, including Japan, South Korea, India, China and Indonesia, where paid menstrual leaves are offered in the workplace. However, according to an article by New York Post, the prevalence of menstrual leaves in Asian countries stem from a belief that when a woman works on her period, she will not be able to conceive children. And suddenly, this no longer feels empowering…
On the other hand, a large proportion of menstruators refrain from using paid menstrual leaves even if it’s offered to them. Why? It all comes back to period stigma. In Japan for example, “many women just request regular time off rather than menstrual leave, fearing the attention of their male co-workers” (Goldberg 2016). Please do share if you’ve had a different experience, but during all my years of sex-education, not once were we taught about approaching staff or faculty members to tell them we were on our periods. As students, we never knew how to approach our teachers to explain our situation to them (not to mention the ridiculous “you have to ask to go to the washroom” in so many schools). So naturally, that awkwardness sticks with many of us, preventing us from communicating our needs to people, especially those who are not menstruators.
Another major issue with implementing paid menstrual leave is the wage gap. Since extra paid leaves are an additional cost to companies, it is possible that consequently, the wage gap would increase.
If only we could live in an ideal, patriarchy-free world…
The solution seems like a no-brainer, yet the path to solving the problem is far more complicated than one would expect. First and foremost, (this will take decades) we need to take measures to eradicate period stigma. This starts in school. If both menstruators & non-menstruators were taught about periods earlier in life, it would be far easier for the two groups to communicate about periods. Additionally, it would probably make everyone more empathetic and therefore more likely for them to implement policies in favour of menstruators.
Goldberg, Haley. “Paid Menstrual Leave Is Spreading, but Women Are Divided.” SELF, 10 Mar. 2016, www.self.com/story/paid-menstrual-leave-is-spreading-but-women-are-divided.
Hollingsworth, Julia. “Should Women Be Entitled to Period Leave? These Countries Think So.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Nov. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/11/20/business/period-leave-asia-intl-hnk-dst/index.html.
Leguichard, Stephanie. “Why Do Some Countries Give Women Paid Period Leave?” Medium, An Injustice!, 4 June 2021, aninjusticemag.com/why-do-some-countries-give-women-paid-period-leave-f29bf6778502.
Whimn. “The Double-Edged Sword of Countries That Allow Menstrual Leave.” New York Post, New York Post, 3 May 2019, nypost.com/2019/05/02/the-double-edged-sword-of-countries-that-allow-menstrual-leave/.
Vashisht, Aditi, et al. “School Absenteeism during MENSTRUATION amongst Adolescent Girls in Delhi, India.” Journal of Family & Community Medicine, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6130156/#:~:text=RESULTS%3A,source%20of%20information%20on%20menstruation.