The Spanish government plans to provide several weeks of leave per year for women who have severe periods pain. The legislation, which is expected to be approved by cabinet next week would make Spain the Western first country to have such a policy. Countries that include Japan and South Korea also offer paid period leave, and some companies–including Indian food-delivery service Zomato and UK community-development firm Coexist–have also introduced period leave policies.
On the one hand, it’s commendable that governments and businesses are looking for ways to accommodate people who suffer from debilitating periods, and to combat the stigma still associated with menstruation. “It’s wonderful to see that women’s health is being brought to the forefront of the agenda in Spain, and is being given serious consideration,” says Alyson Meister, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Swiss business school IMD who has written about supporting employees with chronic illness.
But experts in diversity and inclusion warn that policies regarding period leave can be erroneous. There may be better ways of ensuring that women who experience menstrual pain can have time off when they need it.
The persistent problem of period stereotypes
One drawback to menstrual-leave policies: They can reinforce the sexist stereotype that people on their periods are irrational, emotional, and essentially incompetent, notes Evelyn Carter, a social psychologist and president of diversity and inclusion consultancy Paradigm. Employees might find themselves in discomfort if their period leaves are not disclosed. This could lead to managers attempting to link performance with PMS.
In general, workplace policies that are specific to women can wind up further marginalizing them. “By making fertility and family highly visible and salient markers for women workers and, by extension, sending the message that work and career are secondary, it can limit women’s options rather than expand them,” says Pamela Stone, professor emerita of sociology at Hunter College and co-author of the book Opting Back In: What Really Happens When Women and Mothers Go Back to Work.
Who gets excluded from period-leave policies?
Another concern with menstrual-leave policies is the potential impact on transgender people, Paradigm’s Carter says.
More than half of trans people in the US say they’re not comfortable being out at work, according to a recent McKinsey survey, and while a UK survey in 2021 found that 65% of trans people say they don’t share their identity at their jobs. Given trans workers’ concerns about facing discrimination from their employer, Carter warns that a menstrual-leave policy “could run the risk of forcing people to out themselves in order to access this kind of benefit.”
More broadly, Meister points out, many people suffer from chronic pain or illness of some kind, and may feel slighted by leave policies that apply to menstruation but not to other issues. “