Menstrual Leave: The Good, The Bad and The Bloody

Menstrual Leave: The Good, The Bad and The Bloody

The controversial new bill drawing mixed reactions



Following Spain’s groundbreaking announcement that it's the first European country to offer paid menstrual leaves, the internet came alive from all possible sides.


While the consensus is that menstrual leave provides a stigma-free opportunity for those who suffer from period pains to recover humanely, some believe it may lead to privacy invasion and further discrimination.


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What exactly is Menstrual Leave?

Pioneered by the Gabriela Women’s Party, the Philippines’ first menstrual leave bill aims to provide two paid work days off for women suffering from dysmenorrhea or other complications. 


Entitled the Menstrual Leave Act or House Bill No. 7758, the proposal “provides women with the flexibility and support they need to manage their reproductive health without the fear of negative consequences, such as losing pay, falling behind in work or facing disciplinary action.” 


It does, however, exempt pregnant and menopausal women. In addition, the Gabriela Women’s Party is proposing a non-cumulative and non-convertible structure. 


Backward in conservative countries, but not everyone

While the concept of a menstrual leave in the Philippines is relatively foreign, it isn’t new. The earliest-dated principle of menstrual leave appeared in Japan in 1947 under Article 68, mandating that employers could not demand the presence of female workers experiencing painful periods. Another early adoptee of menstrual leave was Indonesia in the following year. Restructured in 2003, the original bill now states that workers experiencing menstrual pain would not be obligated to work during the first two days of their cycle.


Other countries that have adopted the law to various degrees include South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and Zambia.



Is Menstrual Leave necessary?

After decades of simply “working through it,” only now are the unpleasantries of menstruation becoming wholly accepted and, more importantly, justified. On average, menstruating women experience roughly 450 periods in their lifetime, with many suffering from severe cramping sensations in the lower abdomen. Of these women, five to 20% report severe dysmenorrhea that hinders everyday activities. While a menstrual leave seems to address these issues, the concept remains controversial.


The surrounding worry in a patriarchal society

Despite the ever-advancing normalization of menstruation in a workplace context, some believe that a menstrual leave will reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Notions of biological determinism can potentially exacerbate employer discrimination, a persisting problem in the Philippines. 


Archaic employers believe the bill’s passing may cause “economic, political and social instability.” In addition, there is the genuine and pressing concern that menstruators will become less desirable hires in various talent pools.


Plus, without a mandated bill, who’s to say all modern employers have surpassed their antiquated ideals? Skeptics may request medical certificates to certify painful periods, which can be highly invasive for some. Subsequently, will progressive employers be willing to consider non-visible symptoms, such as anxiety or mental distress? There is no simple answer—only a glaring “TBD.”



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The fight for women’s health and productivity

Despite the immense pushback by predominantly male authority figures, menstruating netizens are ferociously fighting these outdated perceptions, declaring, “Men have it so easy. They don’t deal with monthly pain nor bear children for nine months. But women, despite experiencing all these, are still highly discriminated against, especially in the workforce. You probably think this is a walk in the park for us.”


In response to the negative feedback, the Gabriela Women’s Party has responded: “The experience of throbbing pain and other symptoms during women’s monthly periods is not something which women made up—it is a shared reality [that] women have to endure on a monthly basis. To reduce women’s demand for menstrual leave to a plane alongside testosterone-boosting leaves for men is to trivialize women’s pain.”


Continuing the fight against discomfort surrounding periods, many international parties are proposing broader policies, such as offering a means to manage period pains from within the workplace. Australian representatives are lobbying for flexible working arrangements, free access to pain relief and other workplace adjustments.



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The bottom line

In the wake of Girl-Bossing, the #MeToo movement and post-pandemic well-being at the forefront of health and gender concerns, menstrual leaves are just the tip of the iceberg. While with the potential to lead to gender discrimination, menstrual leaves are a step in preventing menstruating individuals from being negatively impacted.



Words Zoë Isabela Alcazaren

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