Should women be offered paid menstrual leave?
Published Wednesday, December 10, 2014 11:16AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 10, 2014 2:06PM EST
For many women, "that special time of the month" -- their menstrual period -- brings such pain and discomfort, they simply stay home from work. But what if women were allowed to take a few days off each month for menstrual leave, separate from their sick leave, without worrying about losing their jobs?
It's an idea that isn't new: several other east Asian countries have had menstrual leave policies and laws in place for decades. But the idea has become a hot point of discussion in the U.K. after being raised again at the Festival of Ideas, in Cambridge, last month.
Gynecologist Dr. Gedis Grudzinskas, who was on that panel, says he likes the idea of menstrual leave. He says the patients who come to him are often struggling with their reproductive health and are worried that their positions at work may be jeopardized if they take time off work to address their problems.
"I don't think that's fair. It's time to look at this again," he told CTV News Channel Wednesday from London.
Grudzinskas says the idea is not so much about giving special status to women with menstrual problems or helping them earn more money, but ensuring that employers be more sensitive to their workers' health needs.
Japan was the first country to enact menstrual leave laws into their labour standards. That was back in 1947, when women were flooding into the workplace and where decent washroom facilities were unavailable to them.
Under the Japanese law, women are allowed to stay home from work during their periods without fear of losing their jobs, although companies do not need to pay them for the days off. The law does not limit how many days off a month they can take.
In South Korea, women are entitled to one day of menstrual leave a month and can get additional pay from their employers if they choose not to take it. Indonesian women are entitled to two days a month of menstrual leave.
Taiwan brought in menstrual leave legislation only recently, in 2013, guaranteeing women three days of menstrual leave a year on top of the 30 days of half-paid sick leave all workers receive.
Some have criticized the laws as unfair to men, or furthering the mistaken belief that women are weak and controlled by their hormones. But the reality is that in many areas, the laws are now rarely used.
A report in the Korea Times found that few women take the menstrual leave they're entitled to, particularly if they work in male-dominated workplaces. Some women are too embarrassed to ask for the time from their bosses, others say they are too busy to stay home.
Emily Matchar writes in The Atlantic that the number of women taking menstrual leave in Japan plummeted over the second half of the 20th century.
But given that so many women suffer real, debilitating pain during their periods, Grudzinskas told the Mail Online that he thinks menstrual leave is an idea worth exploring further.
"Menstrual leave will make people feel more happy and comfortable in the workplace, which is a positive thing," he said.