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The Monthly pause

Source | LinkedIn : By Maggie Inbamuthiah

She walks up to me with a face visibly uncomfortable with pain and requests to take the day off to go home and I know it immediately. “Of course”, I say and offer some tips and tricks I have learnt over the years to help her get through the day.

It is a condition that affects 50% of human population, month on month. Yet, it is a taboo and most of us will talk about it only in whispers (pun intended).

And then the other day on LinkedIn I read that a company in India, a Startup, has introduced Menstural leave for its women employees. I was pleasantly surprised that someone would openly acknowledge that such a thing called Menstruation exists and openly do something about it!

Interestingly, when I picked up this topic for discussion, women did not jump up with excitement at the possibility. They did not seem relieved as I did and they had a point.

Some facts before I go into the details.

1) There are only two countries in the world where there is a leave that can be availed by women suffering from dysmenorrhea, the medical term for cramps and pain during periods – Taiwan and Japan. In few other countries like Canada, the need for this is still being debated and in others, like South Korea, it has been a failure.  So, there are not many precedents.

2) Dysmenorrhea is not a deeply researched subject and hence we do not have official numbers on how many women actually suffer from it or effective treatment/ relief options. So we do not have a lot of scientific evidence to go by except for prevalent jokes and funny notes on PMS aka women’s mood swings.

3) The experience is not common for all women all the time. There are good days, bad days, good months, bad months; even good years and bad years! it is defined as a “sickness” in medical terms or even social terms.

Given this, many raised the question if it is really needed. And more importantly , is it practical?

I spoke to Women Managers and their apprehensions stemmed from the following concerns:

  • The fear of misuse of this leave. As I mentioned this is not a sickness that can be proved by a medical certificate. So, yes, it does leave room for misuse or more uncomfortable discussions to avoid misuse.
  • This could lead to further discrimination against women. I know of many managers who will not hire a pregnant woman or “could-possibly-become-pregnant-soon” woman. If menstural leave becomes a wider policy, then it gives more basis for bias.
  • General misgivings/ concerns around missing work or working from home. There was also a concern around missing work, impacting continuity at work, which in my view is not a concern. If she is hurting and wants to just curl up on the bed, she is going to miss work; menstural leave or none. Plus this is an issue that has deeper implications in work culture. But let me acknowledge there will always be two camps on this topic.
  • The level of comfort around openly applying for such a leave and availing it. It is taking me a lot of, what I call, “overcoming-the-pause”  moments to write this article. I can imagine how uncomfortable it will be quieter, shier women to request their male managers for time off for this leave. They would rather shove it under a more generic “sick leave”


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