An argument for menstrual equality going beyond access to menstrual products
For the fourth month in a row, my period cramps have forced me to take time off work. My boss has received yet another email letting her know that my period cramps have rendered me unable to sit at my desk.
As I lie on the floor in the fetal position with my heating pad, stretching and moving my body trying to find any position that will provide me with a moment of relief, I think to myself – What if taking a sick day was not an option for me? What if I had to sit at my desk and attempt to focus on the next email I had to write, all while experiencing this overwhelming pain? It just doesn’t seem possible.
Paid sick leave for periods
I think back to my days as a server when my period and this unbearable pain would surprise me in the middle of a dinner rush. Having to interact with guests and run around the restaurant, painting a smile on my face as if I wasn’t in terrible pain. Repeating the same special for the 25th time while patiently waiting for the guest to choose their appetizer. Barely able to keep myself standing because of the excruciating leg cramps my period always brings, but knowing that my manager would never let me go home sick on a busy Friday night. I also needed the tips to pay the bills. Taking a sick day was not an option for me, never mind a paid sick day.
As someone who is passionate about menstrual equity, I realized that this is one element in the larger discussion of menstruation and equity that I had never thought about before. I started further reflecting on how non-existent or stifled dialogue around menstrual leave was yet another byproduct of the harmful stigmas around menstruation, yet another consequence of archaic ideas around menstrual etiquette.
In having discussions around menstrual equity, the conversation is often focused on how expensive it is to access healthy and clean menstrual products. Which of course is the reality, menstruating is expensive. According to a Plan International study, about one-third of respondents say they have had to sacrifice something within their budget in order to afford their menstrual hygiene products. No one should have to choose between their menstrual hygiene and other basic necessities.
Period sick days in Canada and worldwide
And while this conversation is incredibly important, menstrual equity means much more than just the cost of menstrual products. It also means that all menstruators should have access to paid sick days. According to a report published in 2020 by The Decent Work and Health Network, 58% of Canadians do not have paid sick days. Workers without paid sick days are more likely to be in low-wage, precarious jobs, which are disproportionately held by women, people of colour and people with disabilities (DWHN, 2020). In fact, Canada is in the bottom quarter of countries without guaranteed paid sick leave for workers on their first day of illness (DWHN, 2020). And it’s not because menstrual leave is an impossible feat without a proven successful track record.
Many countries already have national policies for menstrual leave including Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Zambia and Mexico (Levitt, R.B. & Barnack-Tavlaris, J.L., 2020). In India, a country known for continuing to hold strong taboos around menstruation, food delivery company Zomato offers up to 10 days of menstrual leave per year for their employees (Al Jazeera, 2020). This ignited a fierce debate in the country with echoes of the debate bouncing all over the internet as other countries and menstruators took a stand. What these countries show us is that menstrual equity and paid sick days is not a novel concept. It is alive and well, with many menstruators experiencing the benefits from a variety of different cultures and geographies.
Menstrual leave today
The discussion around the need for paid sick days has certainly escalated since the COVID-19 pandemic, where people are having to choose between protecting public health by staying home when experiencing symptoms or going to work in order to support themselves and their families (DWHN, 2020). However, paid sick days are essential for countless reasons, including establishing menstrual equity. No menstruator should have to try and work through unbearable pain in order to secure the income they need to afford basic necessities.
There is another option and paid sick days must become part of the conversation on menstrual equity, in Canada and beyond. Not only on its own merit as a needed health resource and option for those with painful periods, but also as an additional piece to reducing the overall harm stigmas around menstruation cause.
Read more about Rebecca Pacheco on our Team Page
Al Jazeera. (2020). Zomato’s ‘period leave’ policy triggers debate among Indian women. Al Jazeera News : Women. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from : https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/8/12/zomatos-period-leave-policy-triggers-debate-among-indian-women
Decent Health and Work Network. (2020). Before it's too late: How to close the paid sick days gap during COVID-19 and beyond. Decent Health and Work Network. Retrieved February 4, 2021 from: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/dwhn/pages/135/attachments/original/1604082294/DWHN_BeforeItsTooLate.pdf?1604082294
Levitt, R.B. & Barnack-Tavlaris, J.L. (2020). Addressing Menstruation in the Workplace: The Menstrual Leave Debate. The Palgrave Handbook of Menstruation of Critical Menstruation Studies. p 561-575. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_43#:~:text=To%20date%2C%20menstrual%20leave%20policies,Matchar%202014%3B%20Worley%202017).
Plan International Canada. (2019). New Plan International Canada research shows large majority of Canadians support free menstrual hygiene products in schools and the workplace. Plan International Canada. Retrieved February 6, 2021 from: https://plancanada.ca/media-centre/plan-intl-canada-releases-new-menstrual-hygiene-research
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