Breaking the cycle

Considering the feasibility of paid menstrual leave

AMenstral Break online colour (1)At just 11 years old, I had awoken to a visit from dear Aunt Flo. Nobody had warned me about what a savage she was. 

I felt soggy, dirty, bloated and sick. The pain was like something was trying to claw its way out of me. 

I immediately called my mom at her office and told her I was staying home. 

“What are you going to do Deanna, just not go to school every time you have your period?” 

Right from the get-go, having my period wasn’t an excuse for me to stay home, as us women are stronger than that.

Thankfully, I did stay home, since my father was no match for my tears, and intuitively figured out what was happening.

Unfortunately, the world isn’t as soft as my dad, especially when it comes to women.

It has been reported that 17 per cent of Canadian women have missed school or work due to dysmenorrhea, better known as painful periods, according to the National Center for Biotech
nology Information. 

The sad reality is, when a leave is unpaid in the workplace, it’s often not a financially feasible option for a lot of women. They report for duty anyways, despite scientists comparing the pain of the worst cases of dysmenorrhea to that of passing a kidney stone.

Many East Asian countries have had menstrual leave policies in place for decades, and it has recently become a topic of discussion in western cultures when Dr. Gedis Grudzinskas, a British obstetrics and gynaecology specialist, proposed the idea at the 2014 Festival of Ideas in Cambridge. 

He told CTV News he doesn’t think it’s fair for women to worry about their positions at work being jeopardized, in terms of progress, when addressing their reproductive issues. 

Unfortunately, though, they do. It’s a sad reality that, to employers in our society, women are a liability and a hindrance, especially due to that pesky thing we do. 

Also, women are still paid less than men in Canada. They earn $0.82 for every dollar men make, according to Catalyst, a feminist non-profit organization. 

Due to this, we can only imagine how much the pay gap would increase if we were given more paid leave. 

Therefore, paid menstrual leave isn’t feasible at this time, at least until attitudes change.

“I don’t think [paid menstrual leave] is the answer here,” said Carly Ranger, a women’s studies major at the University of Calgary. 

“Women are already missing out on opportunities and equal pay due to attitudes and stigma surrounding pregnancy and parental leave.”

The last thing women need is another reason for employers not to hire them.

A survey conducted by WaterAid, an international organization focusing on improving access to water and hygiene for the poorest of the world, stated that 42 per cent of women in the United Kingdom feel the need to hide their sanitation products on their way to the bathroom, even though it is a normal biological process experienced by 800 million women per day. 

Telling others about their period is only reserved for a woman’s close girlfriends or mothers, not their employers. They don’t want to appear weak, as society’s attitude is to just pop an Advil and get on with it. 

The ability for women to speak openly about their bodies is something that is subdued by our society. Instead of speaking out, many women feel ashamed. 

Even in South Korea, where paid menstrual leave has been a regulated policy since 2001, women are unlikely to use it due to the shame associated with menstruating, and the perception that they are weak and receiving privileges due to their sex, according to an article in The Korea Times in October of 2012.

Conclusively, it is unlikely we could implement a paid menstrual leave policy at this time and have companies actually comply without marginalizing women or causing them to feel shame for using it.

There are some policies that could be implemented in order to find some common ground between companies and their female employees, however.

Women have to spend a ridiculous amount of money in order to ease their menstrual symptoms despite having to menstruate every month.

“I think governments should be heavily subsidizing menstrual products and birth control so that menstruation does not take away from our time and livelihood,” said Ranger. 

As far as shame affecting women in our society, we can leave the term “menstrual” out of the equation. Women should just be given extra “sick” days in order to avoid admitting they’re menstruating, however backwards it is to be embarrassed about such things. 

“Obviously, if you’re having awful cramping, nausea and vomiting, you should definitely call in sick,” said Madison Gough, a nurse at Calgary’s Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. 

People of both sexes are free to use paid sick days at many companies, be it for migraines, the flu or the common cold. However, women have this particular circumstance that men don’t experience and, therefore, should be given a few extra days. 

This is the case in Taiwan under the Gender Equality in Employment Act. Everyone is given the standard 30 days of paid sick leave per year, while women are given an extra three “health-related leaves,” where they are entitled to half-pay, without having to actually admit they’re menstruating. It is important to note that women are not given the half-pay if they’ve already exceeded their standard 30 days, in order to avoid women simply taking advantage of the system when they don’t really need it.

“I get paid sick leave at my work, although I’ve never used it because of my period,” Gough said. 

However, she recognized the possibility that women, compared to men, can require more time off, and the system should respond accordingly.

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