By Erika Harrington
A few months back, news broke that Italy has introduced new legislation requiring workplaces to offer three days of menstrual leave each month for female employees. News flash: It’s highly controversial—let’s try to break it down together.
While we traditionally base InformHer articles on academic research, there isn’t a lot to go on here. So instead, I’ll offer an overview of the conversation surrounding menstrual leave, and while I’m at it, make a tasteful call to researchers to explore this topic further.
My attempts to find such research revealed the under-explored world of menstruation’s social and psychological implications. There are studies about the attractiveness of women with endometriosis. Attractiveness. Not actual health or, you know, treatments. I’ll let you ponder that.
Okay, let’s refocus. Menstrual leave, what is it? According to the legislation, women who suffer from dysmenorrhoea–or debilitating menstrual pain–are entitled to 3 days of menstrual leave each month. This accommodates women’s unique needs without cutting into the sick leave that their male co-workers also receive. While some find this sensible and well intended, others were quick to point out the faults in the policy.
For one, some feel that this is not fair at it’s core because it gives women special treatment. Scrolling through article comments and hearing general sentiments about working women from public figures like our dear president’s son, it’s clear that many people believe that if women can’t handle the demands of the workplace, they “shouldn’t be in it.” *Rolls eyes*
On the other hand, many proponents of female empowerment disagree with this legislation because they think it diminishes women’s perceived abilities. They believe policies like these send a message that women are weaker people who need to be coddled *rolls eyes a little less*. With that, many of those on this side of the debate think a solution is not to give women added days alone, but rather push for more sick leave for all employees (which could be beneficial for those with chronic conditions that are completely unrelated to their sex).
Further, there’s an audible viewpoint that I haven’t been able to find in the public discussion, but was mentioned to me by a fellow InformHer writer. She explained that if your cramps are painful enough that you can’t go to work, it’s indicative a larger health issue that should be better researched and treated—like endometriosis, adenomyosis, STI’s, miscarriages, or fibroids, all of which which affect hundreds of millions of women across the world but are both under-diagnosed and (often) incorrectly diagnosed.
The reality is some women experience extreme pain that can lead to nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, fainting, anemia, and diarrhea–symptoms that you’d experience once a month, or even daily in some cases. Currently, the only non-surgical way to mask (not treat) these symptoms are often hormonal birth control medications, especially IUDs and implants.
My take on this situation? What we need is to stop looking at women as only economic commodities, and as real people who need improved access to research (and doctors well-versed in this research who can treat them). Because a healthcare system that doesn’t acknowledge a uterus as more than a special interest is just wrong. Period.