There Are Countries Where ‘Menstrual Leave’ Is Actually A Thing

They mandate a legal right for women to have time off work during their periods. But is that the best thing ever or actually kind of sexist?


by Sophie Cullinane |

For most women in the UK, the last time we used our periods as an excuse for anything (and actually got away with it) was in secondary school when ‘riding the crimson wave’ got us out of swimming lessons long enough to dip behind the bike sheds and have a crafty fag. (Not recommended these days, fyi.)

Post-teenage rebellion though, an admission that you’re on your period is rarely met with anything more than an offer of some Dairy Milk from a sympathetic colleague or a withering look from someone who doesn’t get period pains and never has.

But, turns out elsewhere in the world, admitting that you’re on your period could actually get you time off work.

The tradition of ‘menstrual leave’ started in Japan just after World War II where, according to the 1947 Labour Standards Law, any woman who has painful periods or who has a job which might exacerbate period pains were allowed seirikyuuka (meaning ‘physiological leave’).

Sounds crazy, but it kind of made sense. At the time, women were entering the workforce in record numbers – but workplaces, like factories, mines and bus stations, had minimal sanitary facilities. Obviously, these days, access to sanitary products has improved for Japanese women – but they’re reluctant to give up menstrual leave entirely.

Meanwhile, according to a new report in The Atlantic, in Taiwan, menstrual leave legislation was amended as recently as 2013. It guarantees women three days of menstrual leave a year on top of the 30 days half-paid sick leave given to all workers.

The extra three days came after a coalition of politicians claimed that incorporating menstrual leave into regular sick leave would be a violation of women’s rights. Indonesian women, too, are allowed two days a month menstrual leave and South Korean workers AND students are entitled to take days off when they’ve got their period as sick leave.

But before you hail these Asian countries as forerunners think about it this way. When it comes to women’s rights, a lot of the laws were implemented because of the scientifically unfounded assumption that women who do not rest while they’re on the rag, risk difficulty in childbirth later on.

The hidden message is: ‘Don’t work while you’re menstruating, silly women! Otherwise, you’ll risk your REAL role as child vessels later down the line!’

Think that idea is slightly dubious? Then, you should hear about Russia. Last year, a lawmaker proposed a bill that would give women two days off a month because: ‘During that period (of menstruation), most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort.

‘The pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance (…) Strong pain induces heightened fatigue, reduces memory and work-competence and leads to colourful expressions of emotional discomfort.’

Now that isn’t something just to eye-roll about – it’s actually another piece of misogyny that feeds into the idea that women are a lesser sex ‘inflicted’ with a ‘curse’ that makes them ‘weak’.

If a woman does have such painful menstrual cramps that she feels the need to stay at home then fair enough, but that’s a medical condition in the same way a flu or – I don’t know – hernias might be for men. Otherwise ‘menstrual leave’ isn't just patronising, it’s sexist, too.

We’ll stick with that Dairy Milk, thanks.

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophiecullinane

Picture: Lukasz Wierzbowski

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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