Maggie Di Sanza
The 'Menstrual Leave' Movement
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
While browsing the internet for menstruation related news, I came across an interesting article explaining how a company recently began allowing menstruating peoples to take paid leave when on their periods. Obviously, it sparked controversy from all corners; so I decided to explore it further myself.
Of course, we have all requested time off of work or school when we were sick, scheduled a vacation or had a family crisis, but never due to menstrual pain or maintenance. The Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) in Melbourne, Australia has offered twelve paid days off “for employees experiencing symptoms of menstruation and menopause.” What has been dubbed as their “menstrual leave policy” has been in place for over a year now.
The female advocacy group began experimenting with having a menstrual time off benefit after an employee had to leave work due to excessive pain from menstrual cramping, headaches, and nausea that goes hand and hand with some periods. “We all know that menstruation is not a sickness, so it made no sense for her to take a sick leave,” a 2017 VWT representative explained.
As a feminist, this was my first thought: Menstruation is not a sickness, so why treat it like one? Menstruating people are just as capable when on their periods, so why give them special privileges? With this perspective in mind, menstrual leave became completely separate from sick leave. VWT's menstrual leave policy also gives women the option of working from home or resting in a comfortable place in the office.
The organization even backs up its choice to cater to employees’ periods with data from a collection of research, named the Waratah Project, which explored how women collectively view menstruation and menopause.
Expectedly, after surveying around 3,400 women across the globe, VWT discovered that 58% of participants said a day off to rest would make their period a better experience each month. Thus sparked a new workplace menstrual movement! Personally, I am incredibly excited about this movement. By implementing a policy that is gender inclusive and portrays menstruation in a regular and non-shameful manner, VWT is leading the way for menstrual equity among working menstruators.
Wonderfully, VWT is even encouraging other organizations to implement a menstrual policy for their own period-experiencing employees, and has a template online that they can use to do so.
All this being said, many feminists have questioned the validity of such a policy; asking the question: Is the period leave a dream for the women’s movement, or a detour on the path to true gender parity and equal opportunity? Of course, there are arguments for both sides.
On one hand, nonprofits and organizations like VWT are tackling the stigma around menstruation; the group argues that our culture has drilled the practice of hiding our periods from the world, pretending that they virtually do not exist. Their menstrual leave policy is changing that by promoting open conversation about every menstruating person’s monthly reality.
On the other hand, this policy is trivializing women’s fight for equality in the workplace and confirms the idea that biology holds women back, as opposed to cultural myths of longstanding gender stereotypes.
A 2017 Washington Post article puts it bluntly when pointing out that “Girls can be denied an education because of cultural taboos, relative poverty, and a lack of basic facilities during a period - and here we are, elite and spoiled women, demanding the right to stay at home. Does no one see the irony?” This perspective is a bit extreme, as while one’s circumstance can be worse than another, the injustice of both situations are not excused.
VWT however, while being the first to jump on this menstrual bandwagon, was not the only.
In fact, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan actually require companies to provide a menstrual leave, despite being frowned upon in practice.
Personally, I see the outcome of this debate as positive no matter what! Why? The very fact that we are having it is a huge step in the right direction. Period leave may or may not be the right policy for every office, or contributing to the success and validity of the women’s movement; but by even giving the conversation the time of day, we are opening a window to a deeper discussion surrounding a topic that has had a legacy of taboo for far too long.
What do you all think? Does the menstrual leave movement progress menstrual equity, or delay and invalidate it? I would love to hear your opinions down in the comments!