A recent article in The Atlantic—Should Paid Menstrual Leave Be a Thing by Emily Matchar re-sparked the debate about whether women should have the option to take a day or two off for menstrual leave. Many Asian countries (Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia) offer menstrual leave benefits. Japan has offered this option to women since 1947. Not surprising to learn that since women’s jobs have become less physical, the number of menstrual days used by Japanese women has dramatically declined due to women not wanting to appear weak.
In the twenty plus years of working in the financial industry, I’ve always been amazed at the confidence some men display when announcing they need to go to the bathroom. I’ve heard many men declare that they need to “drain the dragon,” or watched them proudly tuck a newspaper under their shoulder as they share their need to “take care of business.” Every declaration has made me secretly cringe, but there’s a part of me that is impressed by their openness about taking care of their most basic need. Imagine if a woman at the office, in mixed company, openly grabbed a pad or tampon out of her bag and declared she had to put a fresh one on while playing catch with it on her way to the bathroom. Although a woman might whisper or signal her need to a close girlfriend—bold public declarations just don’t happen. In the US, there still remains a lot of stigma and taboo in the workplace related to women openly speaking about their periods.
Overall, I don’t think women should have menstrual leave benefits. However, it’s a valuable conversation. Recent reports indicate that women make seventy-seven cents to every dollar a man makes. Since there are misconceptions about the menstrual process by both men and women, mandating paid menstrual leave might cause employers to hesitate about hiring a woman; because, potentially, menstrual leave might be seen as an unfair benefit or require more administrative effort to manage. Women cannot afford further wage discrimination.
Here’s another thought. If the benefit is abused, would there be a need to prove you’re bleeding? A company in Norway makes women wear a band on their wrist, and some Indonesian women are forced to drop their pants! How are benefits handled if a woman has a hysterectomy or reaches menopause? I don’t think it’s anyone’s business when a lady gets her period or not. I used to have PTO days and on rare occasions, I used my normal benefits when dealing with debilitating period pain.
An article in the Huffington Post relates menstrual pain to the pain a man feels when he’s kicked in the nuts—an absurd comparison! Unless under external physical attack, when is a man repeatedly kicked in the groin on a monthly basis? Making this analogy does a disservice to both men and woman, and shows a lack of understanding of the biological differences between the sexes. Bottom line—women are physically and hormonally wired differently from men. Women get their periods on a monthly basis, and some conditions cause extreme pain during ovulation and when menstruation occurs.
Reports indicate that twenty percent of women experience painful periods. I suspect that the number is actually higher due to existing stigmas attached to and secrecy about menstrual issues. Menstrual pain is an internal biological imbalance that—if not experienced—is hard to fully relate to and understand.
In 2010, Yara Doleh sparked the menstrual leave debate in Canada when she spearheaded the cause to get menstrual leave approved as an optional benefit for women. The fear of women being stigmatized for using the benefit was a major concern. However, the debate in Canada highlighted some important aspects of the conversation. I strongly agree with Amy Sedgewick, co-founder of Red Tent Sisters and Yara Doleh’s focus on educating women about their menstrual process and how their bodies work.
The Atlantic Article addresses the goal of menstrual leave as a “symbol of emancipation for women . . . a way for women to speak openly about their bodies. . . .” Until each woman personally understands how her body works and the options available to empower her health, I don’t believe a majority of women will openly speak about their amazing bodies. That empowerment shouldn’t start in the office. That empowerment starts as little girls and as responsible women being informed about how their bodies work and understanding their optimal solutions. One size does not fit all—it’s an intimate education.
For example, are you aware of the prostaglandins in your body? If you’re experiencing painful cramps are you aware of the possible ways to naturally reduce elevated prostaglandins to help improve your cramps?
Opportunities for additional education and awareness:
- Foods to improve painful cramps
- Foods and toxins to avoid to alleviate cramps
- Female hormones and relationship to stress hormones
- Language and attitude shifts toward embracing and honoring menstruation rather than being embarrassed or silent.
The topic of menstrual leave comes and goes over time in the US. My hope is that the conversation about education and awareness grows louder and more women connect to their bodies and feel empowered to find the most beneficial solutions for their health.
“Queen of Hearts” by Johanna Rivera
Johanna is a talented artist from Bergen County, NJ.
Her artwork is inspired by Amanda Valdez.
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Inspired To Health