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Menstrual Leave Raises International Controversy

Menstruating Italian women are in for a treat… or food poisoning. The Independent reported earlier this year that the Italian parliament proposed a mandate that would grant three days of paid leave every month to female employees with particularly painful periods (or dysmenorrhea).

However, many of the law’s critics include the very working women the proposal aims to protect. Of course, there are those who believe women shouldn’t get fair treatment but they don’t make up the majority.

Instead, most (feminists included) are concerned with how the law can backfire and as a result, penalize women in the workplace. Menstrual leave can be used as a reason to discriminate based on an applicant’s or employee’s gender. Likewise, menstrual leave is something an employer has to legally accommodate and go out of their way for, but if they hire a man, the employer will never have to worry about those missed days.

Because the country already grants women five months of maternity leave, Italian women already have a difficult time in the job market. 72 percent of European women work, but only 61 percent of Italian women work, the Independent added.

Italy isn’t the only country with such measures. The Daily Beast said a Bristol-based management company offers began offering menstrual leave for its female employees--echoing policies of the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and certain parts of China in particular. This goes to show that individual businesses all over the world can enact similar policies without government regulation.

Another concern is the division between menstruating women: those with severe cramps and those with less severe cramps. Who gets to decide which pains are excruciating enough to stay home from work? The legislation fails to address this. At the Bristol-based firm, for instance, women that didn’t use the designated menstrual leave days were deemed as “tough” or “troopers” by their male colleagues.

One Japanese working woman explained no one at her company was encouraged to use menstrual leave, but instead to take sick days, according to the Guardian. She elaborated, “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.”

So does menstrual leave have the potential to gain traction in the United States? Although Italian women still have difficulties in the workforce, gender inequality in the United States appears to be much worse.

Take the pay gap, for instance. On average, women are paid nearly 11 percent less than men, according to Italy Europe 24, which is better than other European countries. On average, American women are making 82 cents to the man’s dollar, mentioned PPP Focus. Plus, that’s only if you’re white. If you’re marginalized through a different identity, like if you’re disabled, transgender, or a person of color, for example, you statistically are destined to make less.

Additionally, in the United States, maternity leave is a constant struggle. Employers are not legally required to grant paid maternity leave to its female workers. However, American mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This law also offers to protect against gender-based discrimination. Many, regardless of gender, argue that isn’t enough adequate time for a mother to raise her infant, though. The Washington Post reported the U.S. is pretty far behind the global curve in terms of maternity leave, too, in the image below.

And sexual harassment in the workplace? The Huffington Post explained 1 out of every 3 American women have experienced it. Yikes. That data might not be far off from Italy, though, since the Guardian reported an Italian boss--who groped his female employees--was deemed not guilty by a judge. Sexual harassment isn’t as directly connected to menstrual leave like maternity leave, but it leaves a woman vulnerable if her job is already on the line.

Lastly, there’s always the possibility of occupational segregation, or how people are assigned roles in workplaces often by gender. Through occupational segregation, the medical field employs men as doctors and women as nurses; in politics, men are politicians and women are their secretaries. With menstrual leave, women could be assigned tasks that cater to their assumed physical constraints. For instance, they could be asked to file paperwork or completely similar administrative tasks more often than their male colleagues, because their employer thinks they should sit down if they’re experiencing menstrual pain.

Despite the drawbacks, the Italian parliament's proposal can have great potential if it addresses other problems working women could potentially face. The process, too, could serve as a model for other countries like the United States that haven’t pursued similar legislation. As the legislative framework develops and reforms pass, much like maternity leave, women hopefully won’t be penalized for taking time off due to serious period pains.


Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer with bylines on Teen Vogue, Esquire, Vice, and more. They run a blog, the Millennial Freelancer, and a newsletter, Rejected Pitches. To learn more about their work, check out their Facebook, Twitter, and website.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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