Should Women Get Paid Menstrual Leave?
What can I say about having a menstrual cycle that hasn’t already been stated by billions of women around the world?
The bloating. The PMS-ing. The cramps. The fatigue. The mood swings. The strange cravings. The weight gain. The pimples. The headaches and stomach aches. And should I mention the dreaded cramps again?
Our menstrual cycles have long been used as the source for many legends, comedies and myths. And while we may laugh, cry and engage in other commiserations over having them, rarely do we take seriously the cost associated with the womanly joy of bleeding for days on end once a month.
Like the taxes some women have to pay for feminine hygiene products (i.e., pads and tampons). Like how we have to pay for feminine hygiene products to begin with. Like the days we miss from work and school because the pain is so bad, some of us can barely function. Some won’t want to admit it out of fear of appearing weak, but for many women, our cycles can be very disruptive to our everyday lives.
That’s when the idea of paid menstrual leave makes sense.
And it is an idea that was recently explored in a SELF magazine article, entitled, “Paid Menstrual Leave Is Spreading, But Women are Divided.”
As the article begins:
Maria Elena’s period can sometimes be a pain. The 20-year-old has anemia, and menstruating often leaves her feeling weak. Sometimes, she even passes out. “Normally, I can deal with it, but there’s certain days when even talking to someone is hard,” the Los Angeles-based freelance writer tells SELF. “It would be better to have that time off than just being at work and making it worse for everyone else.”
But that was difficult when her prior jobs only offered a certain number of sick days. “I have taken sick days for my period before,” she says. “I had a job a few years ago at Disneyland and we had a certain amount of sick days. It was kind of unfortunate because everyone got the same amount of days, and I would have to use them for my period. When I got the flu, I didn’t have as many sick days left.”
Last week, UK social enterprise company Coexist announced they’re creating a “period policy,” which will allow women employees to take time off while menstruating. The news sparked a debate among women: Should a menstrual leave policy be a regular thing in offices? Japan has had a nation-wide plan in place since 1947, according to the Atlantic, and Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, and parts of China have similar policies, too.
I know the feeling all too well. For a single day, every single month, my day is brought to a standstill thanks to a debilitating headache and stomach pains caused by my menstrual cycle. It hurts to read. It hurts to think. Heck, it even hurts to open my eyes. It’s not a good position to be in when your primary source of income involves writing.
That’s why I kind of like the idea of a paid menstrual leave, which would, above all, give legal protection to women who might be economically penalized for something they can’t help but deal with – because of nature.
But as the SELF magazine article notes, instituting such a policy might actually work against our best interests.
First, it has to do with the inequality many women already face in the office. In an opinion piece for Forbes, finance writer Tim Worstall theorizes that adding in extra days off for women to take menstrual leave could increase the gender pay gap. A gap already exists in the workplace, and women earn $0.78 on average for every dollar a man made in 2013, and this ratio is even more dire for women of color, according to nonprofit org Catalyst. Worstall argues that could increase with the addition of paid menstrual leave, as female employers could “cost more” to employers.
“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,” he writes. “The provision of paid menstrual leave will act in exactly this manner.”
Worstall estimates that if one day off a month is added for menstrual leave, “we would expect female wages to fall by 1/22 or 1/23 relative to those of men (or of post-menopausal women).”
In other words, women will be considered less desirable candidates for positions because an employer will not be able to exploit their time as much as those without menstrual cycles (i.e., men). Basically, it’s how capitalism works to create institutional sexism.
It sounds like a horrible reason not to institute change, but it is a legitimate consequence that we, as second citizens in this world, might want to consider.
Still, I can’t help but to think of all the women who have lost jobs and money – or worse, had to drag themselves into work and fight through the unimaginable pain – just because of their periods.
So what’s the solution? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.