Paid period leave has been on our minds lately – earlier this year, Spain introduced it, joining countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia in offering women respite when the cramps, hormones, migraines (or whatever it is that your periods do to you) gets to be too much.
And yet, experts are now debating whether menstrual leave is even progressive, due to the fact that it may encourage discrimination against women. Others have argued that it pushes the idea that women are therefore less able to work efficiently.
But the issue is might more complicated than whether or not paid period leave would be progressive or encourage discrimination – the problem is that many of us have been taking menstrual leave already, our employers just haven’t known about it.
Due to the intrinsic nature of period shame in modern society, we’ve been calling in sick and citing other medical issues instead of being honest about how much our period affects us.
Research has found that 57% who suffer from period-related health issues have lied about why they are off sick.
Further to that, period care company Yoppie found that 26% of females fear that their period pains or other PMS symptoms will not be considered a legitimate illness and therefore not a good enough reason to miss work.
It can feel easier to call in sick with a “bad cold” or something that doesn’t draw on the thought of bleeding out of your vagina, and this isn’t OK.
The discomfort exists on both sides of the dynamic as well – it’s also not uncommon for female-identifying employees to opt for telling male bosses that their sickness is period-related, but not because they necessarily feel comfortable to do so, but because they know their boss will be so uncomfortable and awkward that it will negate any follow up questions.
Verity, 31, tells GLAMOUR that she almost lied to her employer this morning about her period discomfort, but opted to power through and work with a hot water bottle on her lap instead. “But previously I’ve told work that I’ve vommed in the office so I can go home and curl up in a ball,” she adds.
An anonymous sufferer, 24, describes the pressure to lie about reasons for taking period leave as part of a perception that to do so and be honest about the physical and mental toll that menstruation takes on our bodies and minds would be weak.
“I was often afraid that I would be perceived as ‘weak’ and ‘not able to perform my duties’ if I was honest about my period pain,” she told GLAMOUR of her experiences in a previous job. “Most of the time, I simply said that I was ‘unwell’ but at the same time, I was worried that my manager would notice the recurring frequency of such messages and would put two and two together, so I had to be a bit together and mix it up with ‘I’m coming down with something’ or that ‘I have a really bad migraine’.
“Naturally, I felt bad for not being open about this from the get go, but as the only woman on my team (at the time) and as the most junior member of the staff on a temp contract, I almost felt like there was too much at stake.”
Of course, period shame goes further than just the moment when you need to call in sick. Who hasn’t hidden a tampon between their hands when running to the office bathroom, or panic texted a work colleague when you’ve leaked through your underwear?
Until the societal silence and pressures that come from the taboo nature of our periods is addressed and broken down by those in power – in government and in top positions of all companies – whether or not we have official paid menstrual leave in the UK won’t matter.
Because those who suffer the most while on their periods may not feel comfortable to use their period leave. Whether said leave is progressive or not, the attitudes that underpin the way we speak about menstruation need to change. Period.
Read the full article here