Should women get paid time off for their periods? | The Tylt
One Australian company is encouraging businesses across the country to take on one of its policies: menstrual leave. Under this policy, women suffering from symptoms of menstruation or menopause are able to stay home from work with pay. Supporters of menstrual leave policies say they create a more productive work environment and help eliminate the taboo around periods. Others believe these policies are a step backward for women and add to the idea that women are "less capable" than their male counterparts. What do you think?
Should women get paid time off for their periods?
A 15-person women's advocacy organization is making waves in Australia. Victorian Women's Trust is using their own menstrual leave policy to encourage other companies to take the same approach.
The policy allows women suffering from symptoms of menstruation and menopause to do one of three things: work from home, rest in a quiet area at work or take a day's paid leave. No doctor's note required. Employees can take up to 12 days of paid leave per year under the policy, separate from their existing policy for sick leave (periods and menopause are not illnesses after all).
CNN's Jacqueline Howard spoke with Mary Crooks, the executive director of Victorian Women's Trust. Howard reports:
The menstrual leave policy was introduced after [Victorian Women's Trust] launched a large research project called The Waratah Project, exploring how women collectively think about menstruation and menopause, Crooks said.
'In that context of doing that work, we realized as a women's organization, that we had no menstrual policy,' she said. 'So the development of the menstrual policy was just an automatic response of, if we want to shift attitudes and behaviors, we have to start right here in our own office.'
Organizations with menstrual leave policies say the policies work to reverse the stigma surrounding periods–an important step for reaching gender equality in the workplace.
Meanwhile, some people believe the policies do the exact opposite, claiming that "period leave" excludes women from the workplace.
CNN looked to Inga Winkler, a lecturer in human rights and director of the Working Group on Menstrual Health and Gender Justice at Columbia University, for insight. According to Winkler:
'The reason the concept of "menstrual leave" is controversial in the broader context of the society we live in–a society characterized by huge gender inequalities, where women earn less, are perceived as less capable and, in particular when menstruating, are seen as "hysterical," not trustworthy and unfit for decision-making.'
'So while these policies may be well-intentioned, they risk playing right into stereotypes of labeling women as needing extra protection and extra time off, which in turn might reinforce biases in hiring, promotion and compensation...What we really need to work on is challenging these prejudices, but we shouldn't expect the women who are confident enough to take menstrual leave to challenge these perceptions on their own.'
In Winkler's view, the option of menstrual leave puts women in an impossible position: take time off for needed self-care and risk outsider status at your company, or don't take the time off and continue to suffer.
Women who suffer from painful periods know all too well how debilitating they can be, but since there are no other options but to use sick leave or to go to work, most suffer in silence. Victorian Women's Trust isn't the first company to recognize this; a number of countries in Asia already have menstrual leave policies.
According to The New York Times's Aneri Pattani, private companies around the globe have their own menstrual leave policies, as well as nation-wide in Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia.
CNN's Shen Lu reported in 2016 on a new Chinese province that would allow women to take up to two days off per month for severe menstrual pain. Lu lists other countries with period leave policies:
Since 1947, women in Japan have been granted menstrual leave and in South Korea, female workers have been entitled to a day off each month since 2001....
In 2014, Taiwan amended its legislation to grant female workers up to one day of menstrual leave a month and three of these qualify for half pay.
Women in Indonesia are given a monthly two-day menstruation leave by law.
Australia and countries around the world are catching up to an obvious public health concern. No one should be expected to suffer at work, particularly when that suffering comes monthly and does not qualify as a sickness. By offering menstrual leave, the conversation around periods would reach the business world, and perhaps women would no longer feel obligated to hide their tampons in their sleeve when going to the restroom. Menstrual leave breaks stigmas, it does not reinforce them.
As Crooks puts it:
'The bottom line is that productivity and loyalty and respect in a workplace is going to come from both employees and employers trying to do the right thing by one another...I don't accept the premise that this is a backwards step for women. I don't accept the premise that it will mitigate negatively against women.'
Many women in countries with menstrual leave policies don't take the leave offered for fear of being ostracized. Lu later points out women in South Korea working in male-dominated industries rarely exercise their period leave. Even Crooks of the Victorian Women's Trust told CNN:
'The interesting thing, over 18 months, I think the number of days of leave that my staff has claimed is probably about seven or eight across the whole office.'
It's obvious that women don't take leave because of the potential consequences on their careers. Periods have long been used as a reason to exclude women from life outside the home, as well as in the workforce. The New York Times looks to Sharra L. Vostral, associate professor of history at Purdue, for insight. According to Vostral:
Female air service pilots during World War II were often barred from flying if they had cramps.
Carla Pascoe, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne in Australia, tells the Times:
...some women were told not to use sewing machines or read novels during their periods because they might overexert themselves.
'It’s because of this history that I’m wary of returning to an argument that all females are crippled by menstruation—which is what menstrual leave implies to me,' she said. Women with severe period pain should be given time off, she added, but it does not need to be a blanket policy.
Women were forbidden from working during their periods due to the belief that periods made them weak and temperamental. Period leave will only reinforce these primitive ideas. Everyone should feel comfortable at work, but a policy that singles out women will turn into yet another obstacle they must overcome.