Your alarm goes off for work again at an ungodly hour. You groan and slam the “off” button as you roll out of bed and rub your tired eyes to face the long workday ahead. As soon as you stand up, the stomach pain hits you suddenly like a blow the gut, and like a scene from a horror movie you realize that familiar creeping feeling. The reality of women who are menstruating, is that regardless of how mentally and physically exhausted you feel; you still have to show up for your job and act like nothing’s wrong.
Women in the workplace are too often faced with emotional labour, forced to manage their emotions according to organizational and societal expectations. Apart of this emotional labour is managing the physical and emotional distress they are forced to endure during their periods.
Cramps, PMS, back pain, and mood swings are just a few of the symptoms women are faced with, and whilst working they must minimize and trivialize these symptoms to complete their day to day duties. Some women’s cramps are so bad they can’t even walk, and some feel faint or dizzy, but when it comes between missing a pay-cheque or going to work in pain, many don’t have the luxury to take a day off when they please. In addition, women with painful periods often have irregular periods, “so it’s not just something you can book off with the Human Resources department a month in advance”.
The real question here is how come more companies don’t have a “period policy” for that dreaded time of the month? Japan was ahead of the game, offering leave for women on their periods as early as 1947. Italy is the first Western country to propose a law, that “will mandate companies to grant three days of paid leave each month to female employees who experience painful periods”. Nike introduced a menstrual leave policy in 2007, and “makes business partners sign a memorandum of understanding to ensure they maintain the company’s standards” .Further, the UK company Coexist was the first British firm to introduce a period policy, with the founder Bex Baxter citing the belief that this policy will increase productivity.
The argument put forward by many is that menstrual leave will increase the gender disparity between men and women and will “further the unconscious gender bias”, holding back women in senior leadership roles. In some places, it’s even become an obstacle to equal pay for women workers. The double standard put forward is that women on their period are ill-equipped for the workforce, and simply don’t serve a company’s bottom line. However, Baxter from Coexist says that the period policy can be “working more flexibly and efficiently around their menstrual cycle and encouraging a work-life balance.”
We can only wait to see how the law plays out in Italy, and hope that more Western companies follow suit, understanding the plight of some women in the workforce deserves fair treatment and a policy that reflects that.