Days off for menstrual pain: Menstrual leave - stigmatizing or liberating?

You bloat, bleed, cramp - and still drag yourself to work? In Spain this should be the end of it.

Days off for menstrual pain: Menstrual leave - stigmatizing or liberating?

You bloat, bleed, cramp - and still drag yourself to work? In Spain this should be the end of it. The government gives women with severe menstrual pain extra vacation days. Some see it as a feminist liberation, others fear discrimination.

Headaches, cramps, diarrhea - what sounds like a nasty viral infection is a painful routine for most women. It's not uncommon for them to drag themselves to work with Ibuprofen 800 in their pockets during their period. And when painkillers no longer help, a gastrointestinal illness is made up as an excuse. Even today, this seems to be less shameful than the woman's natural menstrual cycle. Many men still wince at the word period and women exchange tampons in public like drug dealers, nobody should notice.

Nanna-Josephine Roloff finds this "absurd". "Menstruation affects half of our society - and always has," says the feminist in an interview with ntv.de. Roloff was one of those who petitioned to lower sales tax on tampons. For her it is clear: The reproductive function of the female body is not only something absolutely natural, but unfortunately also often associated with pain that burdens women in their everyday life. The solution in some countries is: menstrual leave.

What is already common practice in Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and Zambia could now also be established in Europe. With Spain there is now a pioneer in the western world. Because there, too, women are allowed to take several days off every month if they have period pains. Would menstrual leave also be a model for Germany?

The term is misleading, says Roloff. "The word 'holiday' suggests that women are lazy on the couch. But relaxation looks different." Menstruation is associated with serious pain for 90 percent of women. It has been proven that around 10 to 15 percent of all women suffer from endometriosis. This is a chronic condition that causes severe pain during periods. It is triggered by tissue that settles in the abdomen - outside the uterus, where it doesn't belong. Anyone who is familiar with this pain knows that it has nothing to do with vacation.

Two years ago, Green Party politician and member of the Bundestag Kirsten Kappert-Gonther spoke out in favor of more menstrual-friendly working conditions. "Menstruation is something completely normal, some women are even more productive during their periods, others are in severe pain. If they are in severe pain, it must be possible for those affected to be able to stay at home without stigmatization - just like with other pain or illnesses "said Kappert-Gonther the editorial network Germany (RND).

She is not concerned with additional vacation, but with "flexible and unbureaucratic release for those who are affected". Kappert-Gonther sees no conflict in this: Men are in no way disadvantaged if a colleague takes a sick day because of severe menstrual pain - "just as little as if she couldn't work for a day because of a dental operation".

According to labor lawyer Ilka Schmitt, the legal right for women to stay at home for a few extra days each month is difficult to enforce in Germany. "In Germany there is no legal basis for this special holiday," she told RND. The problem: If such a law were introduced, it could lead to discrimination against other employees, Schmitt points out. In addition, employers could then find it difficult to hire women, since they would be entitled to more holidays and thus have higher wage costs than men.

According to Schmitt, the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) stipulates that no one may be discriminated against because of their gender. But that could be the case here. "If an employer introduces menstrual leave in the employment contract, he exposes himself to the risk that his male colleagues will demand the same vacation with the argument of equal treatment."

The situation for women workers in Germany is better than in countries where menstrual leave already exists, says employment lawyer Nicole Mutschke ntv. "You don't have to say why you're missing." She is also critical of the Spanish project. Because there you have to prove that you cannot work due to menstruation, explains Mutschke. In Germany, a sick note is enough without the employer knowing the exact cause. She sees no reason why menstrual leave makes sense in this country: "In my opinion, the German laws are completely sufficient and even better than what is planned in Spain."

Feminist Roloff sees it similarly. She is clearly in favor of removing the taboo on periods, but also says: "The so-called menstrual leave is the wrong way." She fears he could further stigmatize women. "Women are already disadvantaged in the labor market, if only because they can get pregnant." Additional vacation days reinforce the pigeonhole thinking that female employees are less efficient, says Roloff. "This opens up a new jar of discrimination, which leads to further displacement from the job market and poorer opportunities for advancement."

A look at the Asian countries is also sobering. A recent Nikkei survey showed that just ten percent of Japanese women actually take the days they are entitled to. 48 percent of those surveyed say that they would definitely have wanted to take the days, but then refrained from doing so because they didn't want to go to their male manager with the request - or simply because so few other women take the entitlement.

It is also striking that those countries that have introduced menstrual leave do not fare particularly well on key equality indicators. In South Korea, for example, the wage gap between women and men is around one third. There is no entitlement to maternity benefit.

Spain is nevertheless convinced of its new law. On Tuesday, the government approved additional vacation days for women suffering from severe menstrual pain. From now on, Spaniards should be able to talk openly about their complaints and no longer have to come up with excuses for their absence. Proponents of menstrual leave want the same for Germany. Roloff, on the other hand, sees this as only a sham solution to the problem. "It would be much more important to invest in research, for example to be able to help women with endometriosis preventively."


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