Spain passes Europe’s first menstrual paid leave law: What exactly is it and which countries allow it?

In a first for Europe, Spain has approved a law allowing those with painful periods to take three days of paid leave. The move could come as relief for those who suffer from painful menstruation

FP Explainers February 17, 2023 07:30:07 IST
Spain passes Europe’s first menstrual paid leave law: What exactly is it and which countries allow it?

Image used for representational purposes/AFP

The next time you are crippled with pain during your menstrual cycle and you live in Spain, you won’t have to drag yourself to work, all thanks to a law that was passed on Thursday.

Spain became the first European country to pass legislation allowing those with especially painful periods to take paid “menstrual leave” from work. The bill approved by Parliament is part of a broader package on sexual and reproductive rights that includes allowing anyone over the age of 16 to get an abortion or freely change their gender on their ID card.

The law — passed after receiving 185 votes against 154 — permits for a three-day “menstrual” leave, which could be extended to five days, for those with debilitating periods that can cause severe cramps, nausea, dizziness and even vomiting.

For those who wish to use this law, they will need to produce a doctor’s note and the public security system will foot the bill.

Equality Minister Irene Montero, who was a driving force behind this law, hailed the passage of the legislation as a “day of progress for feminist rights”.

“There will be resistance to its application, just as there has been and there will be resistance to the application of all feminist laws,” she told Parliament.

What is menstrual leave?

It has long been debated across the world to implement menstrual leave for women in the workplace.

It is a type of leave where women may have the option of taking a paid or unpaid leave from their workplace when they are menstruating.

The period can cause severe discomfort, pain, emotional problems and other health issues, having such a measure at their disposal allows women to be at the comfort of their home instead of at the office.

Just as the topic of menstruation has remained a taboo in several third-world countries, the matter of menstrual leave is often associated with women’s work efficiency and workplace sexism.

Where do countries stand on menstrual leave?

Menstrual leaves are allowed to women in some Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

While Indonesia gives women the right to two days of menstrual leave per month, these are not additional leaves.

In Japan, the legislation has been in effect for over 70 years now. Approved in 1947, Article 68 of the Labour Standards Law states, "When a woman for whom work during menstrual periods would be specially difficult has requested leave, the employer shall not employ such woman on days of the menstrual period.”

Even though the law requires companies to allow women to take the leave, it does not mandate them to provide paid leave or extra pay for women who choose to work during menstruation.

Also read: Kenyan politician asked to leave over ‘period stain’: How common is period shaming?

In South Korea, female employees are ensured additional pay if they do not take the menstrual leave. However, there are few takers of the benefit. A Japanese government survey in 2017 found that only 0.9 per cent of female employees claimed period leave.

In South Korea, usage is also dropping. In a 2013 survey, 23.6 per cent of South Korean women used the leave. By 2017, that rate had fallen to 19.7 per cent.

In Taiwan, the Act of Gender Equality in Employment gives women three days of "menstrual leave" per year, which will not be calculated toward the 30 days of "common sick leave".

In the African country of Zambia, women are legally entitled to take a day off each month due to their menstrual leave policy, which is known as "Mother's Day". The woman employee can rightfully prosecute her employer if denied the leave.

In 2016, Italy mulled over the idea of having menstrual leave. Lawmakers proposed a bill allowing for three fully paid days off to workers who obtained medical certificates. However, the proposal failed to make any headway and died in Parliament.

According to Elizabeth Hill, an associate professor at the University of Sydney who has extensively studied menstrual leave policies worldwide, the debate around menstrual leave is intense with many wondering if it helps or hinders women. Speaking to Euronews Next, she said, “Is it liberating? Are these policies that recognise the reality of our bodies at work and seek to support them? Or is this a policy that stigmatises, embarrasses, is a disincentive for employing women?”

Menstrual leave in India

There is no legal infrastructure in India to allow women the right to take menstrual leave. There are, however, some private companies, including Byju’s, Zomato and Culture Magazine that provide their female employees this benefit.

Bihar is the only state in the country that has government-approved period leaves. In January, 1992, a state government order declared that all women employees would get two consecutive days of leave every month, apart from their usual offs.

In 2017, MP Ninong Ering from Arunachal Pradesh introduced 'The Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017' in Parliament.

Under the Bill, women employed by both public and private establishments registered with the Central and/or state governments, would have been entitled to two days of menstrual leave every month, which would amount to 24 days of leave annually.

With inputs from agencies

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