You might be surprised to hear that the idea of “Period Leave” began in Japan back in the 1920s, when Japanese labor unions started to demand leave for their female workers. By 1947, the law was brought into force that allowed menstruating women to take days off work. They aren’t alone either – Indonesia, Korea, Philippines, Russia, Taiwan and Hong Kong allow some type of menstrual leave. Nike even made menstrual leave global when they included it in their Code of Conduct in 2007.
The UK might be the next country to hop on the bandwagon with the company, Coexist enacting a “Period Policy” in their largely female office. They noticed that their employees would feel guilty and ashamed for taking time off and often sit at their desks in silence, not wanting to acknowledge it. Bea Baxter, a director at Coexist said, "When women are having their periods they are in a winter state, when they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies. The spring section of the cycle, immediately after a period, is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual." As productive as women might be when we’re on or off our period, that doesn’t mean that we want our work according to it.
The Daily Beast performed a quick poll with the women in their office and found that while many were idealistically in favor of “Menstrual Leave.” However, they worried that demanding extra paid days off would hamper gender equality in the workforce. Several said a policy would likely divide the sexes and potentially be used against women to limit career growth. Others expressed concern that it would create a division among women, too—those who suffer from endometriosis and experience more severe pain versus those who can tolerate cramps. One colleague even worried that male managers would reward women employees who didn’t take menstrual leave for being “tough” or “troopers.”
Interestingly enough, women in Japan who have Period Leave share the same sentiments. One Japanese woman said, “I never took it, partly because my period was never that heavy, but also because I wasn’t aware that any of my female colleagues took it. No one ever openly discussed menstrual leave.” Another female employee of a Japanese firm said no one at her company encouraged female staff to take time off due to severe menstrual pain; instead, women tended to use regular sick leave, she said. “That aside, if you’re trying to prove yourself in a man’s world, you’re not going to take menstrual leave in case it’s interpreted as a sign of weakness,” she added. In a culture where we are already viewed as weak, excusing ourselves for pain certainly does not help our case.
The Period Leave has been enacted in a few provinces in China, but women don’t seem to be that happy about it. Yang Lan, a woman from Shanghai noted that many employees in China are paid, evaluated and promoted on the basis of how many hours they work. “Looks like it is protecting women’s rights, but it eventually will make things worse,” wrote one commenter, @Woshiyamiedie, “The discrimination at work will never end if the rights of women and men are not balanced.” We think that she’s right.
This includes long standing issues such as the gender gap. Tim Worstall, a finance writer for Forbes, believes that adding extras days off for women to take Menstrual Leave could increase the gender gap.
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 the end, hiring women and including paid menstrual leave could “cost more” to employers.
In conclusion, Period Leave sounds like a great idea…but not really. It is a policy of benevolent sexism in a way – designed to help women, but undermining their ability to compete in the workplace.
Do you want your employer to offer Period Leave? Would you take it? What implications would you worry about?