The SheHawk: The time period for menstrual leave policy is now


Genevieve Guenther

John Yildiz, Assistant Opinion Editor

“There will be blood” was echoed in rallies all over the United States on Saturday, Oct. 19, for the first ever National Period Day in efforts to mobilize action towards menstrual equality and increase the overall accessibility of feminine care products across all echelons of society. One of many issues being: the lack of inclusiveness for menstruation in the workplace.

The most often experienced menstrual pain, Dysmenorrhea, or contractions and growths in the womb that cause intense pain to women during menstruation, is strong enough to interrupt the daily activities of up to 20 percent of women according to the University of Birmingham. Both in school  and the workplace, there is often little to no room for women to actively address these health concerns without the fear of sacrificing productivity, finances, sick days or opportunity.

However, Japan, South Korea and Zambia, along with a handful of companies all over the world, have implemented menstrual leave policies to fight these societal constraints.

A menstrual leave policy is an option for women who are experiencing severe menstrual pain to choose to take the day off without penalization. With an emphasis being placed on choice, this policy empowers women to both prioritize their health and contribute to an environment more open in discussing periods. However, there is a significant disparity in the need for this policy in relation to the number of women being affected.

There are over 70 million women in the civilian workforce, and almost 47 percent of the U.S. workforce are women. According to a study by the British Medical Journal, period pain causes nearly nine days of lost productivity in the workflow of a woman over the course of a year.

With or without a calculator, that is an immense amount of time lost in an environment experienced by women everywhere: an environment where one must choose between the necessity of productivity or self care. This is especially important to take note of at UNC Wilmington, where our student body is 61.6 percent female.

Functioning similar to maternity or paternity leave, save the length of time, there are instances of both paid and unpaid menstrual leave. Interestingly enough, parental and menstrual bear surprising similarities in the way that they are treated in the U.S.  For example, the U.S. is one of 16 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that does not offer paid maternity leave and have failed to bring policy about this to the forefront as of late.

Between the shifting attention of American lawmakers and the current President being an admitted sexual assailant, we are unlikely to see any policy on a national level towards menstrual leave. More than anything, this general complacency is a reflection of how stigmatized the concept of menstruation is as a whole.

Discussed behind closed doors and withheld from the public eye across cultures around the world, it is not terribly surprising that public policy and dialogue around menstruation is all but nonexistent within the United States. With over 5000 different ways to avoid saying the word period, the uncomfortableness surrounding this basic bodily function is astonishing.

This lack of open discourse has had lasting impacts for women in regard to accessibility to feminine care products and proper education in learning how to healthily experience a period. As such, the public and private sectors have a unique role here in which they can utilize their influence.

I believe menstrual leave to be one of many necessary steps towards the destigmatization of periods and creating more inclusive workspaces for women. By empowering women physically affected by dysmenorrhea to choose (without consequence) to remove themselves from the workplace, we also move towards a political climate that is much more open to discussing other policies involving women’s rights.

A menstrual leave policy would not solve other issues regarding access to feminine care products, nor would it implement programs in schools that teach young girls how to better understand and meet this bodily process. Though, it is a step in the right direction and something that is needed in the U.S., in North Carolina and in Wilmington. Period.