Should #women get paid leaves during #periods?

Anshika Jain, a professional, has a very bad menstrual period every month. Her pain is excruciating and there isn’t much she can do about it. Pain killers, hot water bags, hot beverages, nothing seems to work beyond a limit. Sometimes, she even passes out. “It is a natural process but hardly feels natural. During the first two days, I am in a very bad state. Working, meeting targets and holding meetings during this is very hard.” She usually has to exhaust her quota of sick leaves for this purpose.

The question of whether paid menstrual leaves should be provided or not isn’t new. Japan addressed this way back in 1947 and has implemented them as a part of its work policy. A few countries followed suit; Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Zambia also have introduced the concept of menstrual leaves. It could be a day a month, like in Zambia, or on an annual basis, like Taiwan provides 3 leaves per year to its women employees.

Menstrual Leave – Why or Why not

John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, has said that cramping can be as “bad as having a heart attack”. And because men don’t get it, it hasn’t been given the centrality it should have got.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, over half of menstruating women experience pain for a day or two. A study has shown that nine out of ten women suffered period pain while they were at work, while only 27 per cent could tell their bosses about it. So, should it be made the part of a company’s policy to offer their female employees a menstrual leave? Is pain during periods normal? Is it something that goes against the idea of gender equality? Questions are many; so are answers. We talked to two doctors, Dr Anita Kant, director, gynaecology and obstetrics, Asian Hospital and Dr Varna Venugopal, HOD, Nayati Hospital, Mathura, to understand if there is a need for a period leave.

Types of menstrual pain

There are two main reasons for a severely painful period: dysmenorrhea and endometriosis. The former one is the condition in which women start feeling pain as soon as their periods initiate. It isn’t normal as usually, period pain starts after two years of the period initiation. But unfortunately, there isn’t much research done about the condition. The latter, endometriosis, is a medical condition in which the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It leads to inflammation and excruciatingly painful periods. As this condition can impact a woman’s fertility, there is comparatively more research done on endometriosis.

But dysmenorrhea is divided in two types, depending on the severity of the cramps – primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea means nothing other than common cramps that most women experience. Whereas, if it is secondary dysmenorrhea, then the condition needs medical attention.

For Dr Varna, a leave a month is only justice. Because primary dysmenorrhea is something that every woman has to deal with, a day’s off for every period is what she thinks is ideal.

On the other hand, Dr Anita Kant answered in a decisive no. For her, monthly periods are nothing but normal and are an essential part of a woman’s physiology. A woman should continue her normal routine, exercise as much as she does otherwise and go to office. She said,” Physical work only reduces the pain that happens during menstruation. If the pain is extreme, it is unusual. One should not ignore it. See a doctor and get it treated.” What she is referring to are the conditions of secondary dysmenorrhea and endometriosis.

Do menstrual leaves mean women are weaker?

There’s but a slight difference between weak and different, the terms often used for each other when it comes to subjects like these. Women are not weaker but their bodies are biologically different than men. This translates to different needs, different problems and for them, perhaps, different solutions too. But if menstruation really calls for an off day is a personal matter for everyone. Some women say that they hardly even realize that they are bleeding down there while some can’t let the fact slip even when they are sleeping. If your pain is unbearable, it is ideal that you see a doctor. Whereas, if it something that can be distracted by work, don’t call it a day without going to office.

Do menstrual leaves mean discrimination at work?

“If we insist that one group or another has an extra set of costs associated with their employment then we’ll end up seeing the wages of that group fall relative to groups that don’t have those associated costs,” finance writer Tim Worstall told a health site. “The provision of paid menstrual leave will act in exactly this manner.”

What’s the solution?

If menstrual leaves are provided, it needs to be made sure that the leaves are not misused by the female employees. Stringent control policies may be implemented to serve this purpose. For example, in Zambia, if women on their menstrual leave are seen doing anything that goes against the reason for their leave, their employment is terminated. The step may or may not be this extreme, but some form of control may be practised.

If the legislation is against menstrual leaves, it needs to be made sure that more research goes into conditions like dysmenorrhea. This way, women get more aware and have a more pronounced discretion on matters like menstrual leaves.

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