A British business is making waves with its official “period policy.” The new plan will allow female staff to take time off each month when they’re menstruating, without taking a sick day.
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“We wanted a policy in place which recognizes and allows women to take time for their body’s natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness,” Bex Baxter told The Guardian.
She’s the director of the Bristol-based Coexist, a predominantly-female company.
“I was talking to someone the other day and they said if it were men who had periods then this policy would have been brought in sooner.”
A recent survey of close to 5,000 Canadian respondents found that 16 per cent of women have missed school, work or an event because of their period.
Menstrual leave has been around for a while in some Asian countries. Taiwan’s 2013 law offers women three days of menstrual leave a year. But it’s been reported “that to be able to take the leave, employees are required to undergo a brief medical examination to prove that they are indeed menstruating.”
Japan has had a period policy since just after World War II when women began to enter the workforce in droves, according to The Atlantic.
The 2014 article said “Asian menstrual leave policies appear to be based on the scientifically dubious notion that women who don’t rest during their menses will have difficulty in childbirth later. Some say the laws are therefore more about treating women as future baby-vessels than valued employees.”
Not many Asian women appear to make use of the option. In the U.K., the sheer thought of it being offered has some people’s knickers in a twist. One Guardian commenter even called it “sex discrimination.”
Vancouver gynecologist Dr. Catherine Allaire feels there needs to be a greater understanding of women’s health issues.
“For some women [period pain] is quite a debilitating problem.”
Her patients at B.C. Women’s Centre for Pelvic Pain & Endometriosis can often experience sharp cramps that double them over. The pain can last from minutes to hours, Allaire explained, and make it hard for them to move and get out of bed.
They’re often forced to plan their social lives around their periods.
“So a week out of the month they’re almost out of commission.”
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Taking time off for period pain can sometimes lead to bad blood in the office for a lot of her patients.
“Their co-workers and their bosses do not understand what they’re going through,” Allaire said.
“Some women have no pain with their periods and they can’t relate or understand that periods can be so painful.”
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Allaire doesn’t believe the solution is necessarily to excuse someone from work, though. Instead, she thinks the priority should be to treat and prevent the chronic pain — otherwise it could get worse over time.
“Let’s put it this way,” she said, “a period that’s interfering with someone’s ability to function shouldn’t be considered normal.”
Endometriosis is a common cause of the pain. It can affect about 10 per cent of reproductive-aged women, Allaire explained.
The painful disorder occurs when tissue that normally lies inside the uterus grows outside of it instead.
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While endometriosis is treated surgically, the birth control pill and Ibuprofen can help relieve typical cramping.
“If that fails and the patient is still struggling with their cycles and their pain,” said Allaire, “then of course any support from an employer and understanding from co-workers is welcome.”