The issue of menstruation, specifically the idea of paid menstrual leave, has taken over a lot of discourse on the internet and even in government organisations. However, the stigma around menstruation is still very prominent in day-to-day life. Since it is something that some people have to experience for a very significant amount of their lives, it follows that there should be an open conversation about this subject.
In the olden times, queens were sent off to different chambers when they were menstruating; food cooked by people who were menstruating was considered impure (and still is, in some parts of the world), and even today, children are kept home from school because of this. Until quite recently, there were times when a person on their period would be excluded from active society for a while. Of course, there are a lot of reasons for this. Some might associate this with shame, with traditions, and with ritualistic history, whereas others are simply buying into the stigma around it and actively promoting it. Because of this, the conversations surrounding menstruation are extremely infrequent, perhaps non-existent in most cultures.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, it is estimated that around 1.8 billion people around the world menstruate every month. This means that at any given moment, there are around 800 million people who are menstruating. This accounts for a whopping 26% of the world's population. Naturally, some of the people in this percentage are in the active workforce.
Menstruation is challenging for quite a lot of people. There are continuous, draining symptoms before the onset of the period, which is then followed by the actual loss of iron and blood for anywhere between four and seven days. A decrease in energy, an inability to eat because of nausea, intense pain, and an inability to concentrate are just some of the symptoms of menstruation. The NLM reports that 45.2% of people who menstruate miss 5.8 days of work on average in 12 months. A lot of these people also report not receiving any sort of mental, physical, or financial support in their workplace from their superiors. Even though 75.6% of these people voiced their need for menstrual cycle based benefits, 94.6% report that they got no such benefits.
In a survey done on 33,000 respondents, 13.8% of menstruating people said that they remained absent more often (from work as well as school), and only 20% of these 33,000 people felt comfortable discussing the reasons for their missing school or work with their superiors. In a study done in the Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters journal on the reasons for absenteeism in three West African countries, the study found, “[The] findings support the assertion that menstruation is a source of absenteeism in West Africa […]”.
So, it is no wonder that this phenomenon can actually lead to a decrease in net productivity. It is estimated that people who menstruate take between 1 and 2.5 months off in total due to their condition. The NLM, in the same study, notes that the productivity of this particular group of people falls by three to twelve weeks annually.
This effect, if scaled globally, could and does have quite drastic effects on economic output and productivity. There is a stunt in the growth of the GDP; it can lower the economic output by a significant degree and, overall, slow down economic progress. Psychology also talks about the effect of drastically varying hormone levels and the effect of that on decision-making as well as job efficacy. The current popular strategy to tackle this has been making the rounds on the internet - paid menstrual leave. Specifically, legally mandated paid menstrual leave. This law would essentially protect people who have really bad dysmenorrhoea, endometriosis, or even just difficult periods against pay-cuts and discriminatory pay. Under such a government-mandated leave, there would be either flexible work situations or, simply, a few days off every month.
This would mean that menstruating people can either work comfortably from home while getting enough medical care or seek out the actual help that they need in an uninhibited environment. There are also multiple consequential aspects to the introduction of the concept of this leave. A potential bad consequence of this could be that discrimination against women could increase in the workplace, deeming them unfit for positions higher up in the workplace. However, more positive aspects of the leave could be that the discussions surrounding these ailments that people suffer through silently could be brought to the forefront. More open conversations surrounding menstruation can be started.
Since there is reviewed data that tells us that net productivity drops if people are forced to work during menstruation, paid menstrual leave might actually help to cover up some of the productivity loss. With better working conditions and being comfortable mentally as well as physically, there can also be an increase in the quality of work produced. The previously mentioned study on West African countries also notes, “[This] indicates that greater attention from research, practice, and policy is needed.”
Spain became the first country in Europe to offer mandatory paid menstrual leave, along with a number of other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia already having some form of this legislation in place. The studies to do with the projection of an increase in productivity are still ongoing since it is a relatively new field of study with very new parameters.
According to a working woman living in Mumbai, menstruation is a deterrent in terms of wanting to work and inevitably causes her to be less efficient. It becomes difficult to focus because of brain fog, causing her to be twice as tired at the end of the day. For her, paid menstrual leave would be “an initiative to work better during her other active working days”. Time Magazine reported Miriam Raquena, a municipal employee, as saying, “I had never realised that we needed this kind of flexibility.” She went on to say that it is a great help to know that she can elect people to voice when she is unable to come to work because her period prevents her from doing her best.
With every subject that has to do with the global workforce and global productivity, there is always a caveat regarding the clarification of the ultimate goal, which is ever-increasing productivity, which ultimately aids in development. It is still to be seen how significant an impact paid menstrual leaves will have; however, personal testaments from all around the world show that it could be a step in the right direction.
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