Employment

'Periods are not an illness': Spain just became the first country in Europe to introduce menstrual leave

Women’s rights groups have welcomed the move to give people who menstruate paid leave, and there are calls for it to be introduced in the UK

Spanish equalities minister Irene Montero. Image: LaPresse/Shutterstock

In a first for Europe, the Spanish government has brought in menstrual leave, paid for by the state, to allow people who menstruate to take time off when their symptoms make it too difficult to work. 

“In case of incapacitating menstruation”, women in Spain now have the right to take up to three days of menstrual leave a month, paid for by the government, and can even extend that to five days. 

The bill is part of a package that expands sexual and reproductive rights to also allow anyone 16 and over to get an abortion or to change their gender on their ID card.

Without such rights, women are not full citizens, said equality minister Irene Montero in parliament.

In the UK, anyone experiencing severe menstrual pain or associated mental health impacts would have to use a company sick-day – if they get them, or sacrifice a day’s wage. Statutory sick pay is currently offered by the government at £19.87 a day, but will only be paid on the fourth day of absence.

“​​Periods are not an illness and require specific consideration in the workplace, especially given that in most cases symptoms will be recurring each cycle,” said Terri Harris, education manager at Bloody Good Period, which campaigns for a world built to accommodate menstruation.

“By creating a more inclusive environment, employers can expect a more engaged workforce which in turn can improve things like performance and staff retention… but most importantly – supporting your staff in this way is simply the bloody right thing to do!”

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Harris called Spain’s policy move a “significant step” towards creating a more inclusive environment where “women and people who menstruate have the provisions they need to carry out their work effectively”.

But she warned that “employers should be wary of simply implementing a period policy or menstrual leave, without tackling the shame and stigma that is still common around periods”.

The Trades Union Congress also welcomed the move and called for similar laws in the UK.

General secretary Paul Nowak said: “We need all workplaces to be more inclusive for women.

“All employers should have a package of supportive policies in place, including offering flexible working for everyone and sickness and absence policies which consider women’s health, including issues like periods and menopause.”

Most people who menstruate experience PMS (premenstrual syndrome), which can impact negatively on mental health. But some people experience ​​severe worsening depression or generalised anxiety in the days before their period, a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or premenstrual exacerbation (PME).

“I think there needs to be an awareness of women’s reproductive health – not just period leave for bad periods – which is amazing, but there needs to be a group policy across the board, not just for one condition,” Laura Murphy, co-founder of the International Association For Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD), told The Big Issue last year.

For people with endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries, periods can be debilitatingly painful.

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Commenting on the news, Emma Cox, CEO of Endometriosis UK said: “It’s good to see menstrual wellbeing being discussed at government level in Spain. We need to challenge the historic squeamishness and silence around menstrual health and have more open conversations on this issue.”

Campaigning for endometriosis to be recognised “for the chronic condition it is, deserving of the same support as any other illness”. 

Just a few other countries around the world offer menstrual leave, including Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia.

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