A government proposal that could make Spain the first country in Europe to allow workers to take menstrual leave has sparked debate over whether the policy would help or hinder women in the workplace.
A leaked draft of new legislation that the Spanish cabinet is expected to discuss on Tuesday proposed giving workers experiencing pain period three days of optional leave a month, with two additional days permitted in exceptional cases.
It was not clear if the leave would be paid or unpaid, or whether it would be offered as flexible hours that employees would have to make up within a specific time frame.
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Jose Luis Escriva, Spain’s minister for inclusion, sought on Thursday to temper expectations, describing the leaked proposal as a draft that was still “under discussion” within the coalition government.
The Ministry of Equality, one of four ministries led by the junior partner in the Socialist-led Spanish government, was behind the proposed bill, according to private news radio network Cadena SER, which first reported the measure.
The ministry told the Associated Press it had not leaked the draft and that the version the cabinet considers could undergo revisions.
Spain’s secretary of state for equality, Angela Rodriguez, floated the idea of providing some sort of menstrual leave in March.
“It’s important to be clear about what we mean by painful period,” she told El Periodico newspaper.
“We’re not talking about a slight discomfort but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”
While a handful of private companies across Europe have adopted period policies, enacting a country-wide approach would make Spain a pioneer in Europe.
Italy briefly flirted with the idea in 2016, proposing a bill that would have provided three fully paid days off to workers who obtained medical certificates.
The proposal failed to progress before the parliamentary term ran out in 2018.
Parts of Asia, ranging from Japan to South Korea, have long had menstrual leave rules, although the extent to which they are used has been debated.
In Australia, few companies offer paid menstrual leave.
One of those companies, the Sydney-based underwear company Modibodi, said that the company had seen increased productivity and trust after introducing paid period leave.
“By supporting women with these policies you empower them to actually want to be at work and put their best forward,” Modibodi CEO Kristy Chong told BBC News.
One of Spain’s major labor unions panned the draft legislation, saying it could lead to women facing workplace discrimination.
“I’m not sure if we’re doing a disservice to us women,” Cristina Antonanzas of the General Union of Workers, or UGT, told Cadena Ser.
The idea that women required time off work while menstruating risked “stigmatizing women,” she added.
Others described a monthly leave policy as long overdue.
“If we men had periods, this leave would have come decades ago. That is the problem,” Inigo Errejon, the leader of the Mas Pais party said on Twitter.
The case for period leave
One of the reasons period leave has traditionally been so hotly contested, even among feminists, is because there is little data on whether period leave helps or hinders women in the workplace.
Many of the arguments against period leave are similar to those that have been made against maternity leave.
Opponents argue that making employers pay maternity leave could discourage them from hiring women.
There is also more recent evidence to suggest that generous maternity leave policies encourage women to stay in the workforce rather than push them out.
Why period leave hasn’t taken off in the West
Every few years, the topic of period leave hits the headlines in Western countries.
Just as often, it’s accompanied by scathing think pieces about why it’s a bad idea.
After Zomato announced in 2020 that it would allow menstrual leave, the Washington Post ran an opinion piecetitled I’m a feminist. Giving women a day off for their period is a stupid idea”.
The article argued that period leave is a “paternalistic and silly” proposal that “reaffirms that there is a biological determinism to the lives of women”.
And after the Victorian Women’s Trust, an Australian advocacy group for women’s rights, introduced a menstruation leave policy for its staff in 2017, Brisbane newspaper The Courier-Mail ran an opinion piece with the headline As a working woman in Australia I’m insulted by this crazy plan.
University of Sydney professor Elizabeth Hill, who researches gender and employment, said at the time there was anecdotal evidence that younger women and men in the West tend to be more receptive to the idea, while older women are more opposed.
Older women often feel that because they struggled through work while menstruating, younger women should do the same, Hill said.
She noted that there were different designs for period leave—and not all policies were created equal.
Some argue that there should be more personal leave entitlements for people of all genders, Hill said.
Others advocate for increasing sick leave to include period leave, although critics argue that women aren’t sick when they have their period — they are just experiencing a normal, biological process.