Daily Mail: Women who suffer from period pains and feel under the weather each month should get paid leave, a leading doctor has suggested. Gedis Grudzinskas, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, believes ‘menstrual leave’ would boost women’s motivation and productivity when they are in the workplace.
He even goes as far as to question if a woman were to accidentally become pregnant, should her employer pay for the termination – although concedes that ‘society is unlikely to be ready for that’.
Mr Grudzinskas, formerly of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London – and who now practices in Harley Street – is a leading international figure in the field of Reproductive Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics.
Explaining his reasoning, he told MailOnline: ‘Some women feel really grotty when menstruating. Coming into work is a struggle and they feel lousy. When you feel like that, it’s harder to take pride in your work or perform as well. This is about employers being sensible and aware.’
Like maternity leave, he proposes the menstrual leave should not interfere with career progression or structure. ‘It would be one to three days each month, separate to sick leave entitlement – it is not sickness, after all.’
Menstrual leave is already recognised in some countries in Asia, such as Japan and Indonesia. The concept is believed to have started in Japan in the early 20th century.
Writing in the journal Health Care for Women International, Alice J. Dan, of the University of Illinois, explains that menstruation leave first emerged as an issue in the 1920s and 1930s when employed women were mostly young, and working conditions for them were difficult. ‘The lack of adequate sanitary facilities and materials made management of menstruation especially difficult for factory and transportation workers,’ she said.
As a result, it was bus conductors and textile workers who were among the first workers to request menstruation leave. ‘Since the majority of women workers were under 21 and unmarried, menstruation leave had a broader appeal than maternity leave,’ she adds.
In Japan, legislation passed in 1947 permitted leave for any woman who ‘suffered heavily’ with menstruation or the work was ‘injurious to her body during menstruation’. However it does not specify the number of days or whether the leave is to be paid. There was also a belief that taking leave while menstruating prevented problems during pregnancy and childbirth, such as miscarriage and premature labour. However the number of women taking up menstrual leave over the years declined.
Ms Dan said reasons for this include the average age of women workers increasing – with older women having less need for the leave – and ambitious, career-minded women becoming increasingly concerned that taking it could harm their career prospects.
Taiwan’s current menstrual leave legislation guarantees female workers three days of menstrual leave a year, in addition to the 30 days of half-paid sick leave allotted to all workers. Indonesian women are entitled to take two days a month of menstrual leave, though many companies simply ignore the law, and others have even been accused of forcing women to ‘prove’ their need for time off, some reports have claimed. The concept is also being discussed in Canada. However when the issue was debated last year in the Russian Parliament, it caused uproar and was thrown out.
Women’s rights activists in the country reacted with anger to proposals by Mikhail Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist LDPR party, who proposed the draft law to increase the protection of women at the workplace. ‘During that period, most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort,’ said Mr Degtyaryov, 32, who is married with two sons. The pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance.‘
But human rights campaigners dismissed Mr Degtyaryov’s idea as sexist. The matter reared its head recently at the Festival of Ideas in Cambridge. Mr Grudzinskas, who was on the panel, said: ‘We heard from one man in the audience that women in a particular work-place in Indonesia were all absent on the same days. Was this menstrual synchrony – where the women experience their menstrual cycle at the same time? No one knows, but the wife of the employer stumbled upon these ladies shopping together in the local mall.’
‘He devised a plan where women were offered a bonus payment if they worked while menstruating – effectively a menstrual bonus. This resulted in full attendance in this workplace – I think it’s brilliant – this boss is a smart cookie.’
Mr Grudzinskas told MailOnline: ‘The issue goes back 100 years when sanitary and hygiene facilities were different, when opportunities for women to look after themselves while menstruating were simply not there. ‘Today, the issue is about enlightenment – that is what interests me. Menstrual leave will make people feel more happy and comfortable in the workplace, which is a positive thing.’
He cites further examples of ‘enlightenment’ as Google, Facebook and Apple proposing egg freezing for female employees who are worried about their biological clocks. ‘These employers are being sensible and looking after the wishes of modern women in the workplace,’ he said. ‘And what many people forget is – women make up half the workforce. If they feel supported, they will be a happy and productive workforce. Maternity leave is just part of the deal.’
So how would menstrual leave work, exactly? Would a woman have to prove she was menstruating? ‘I don’t think women should be shy about it,’ said Mr Grudzinskas. ‘There should be no proof needed – employers should take it on good faith.‘ He added: ‘It’s not a case of policing, it’s about taking it on face value. Over time, records will show is there is a pattern of cycles, and so on.’
And what of the critics who argue some women would abuse the system? ‘I see it as an indication of how employers can be sensible to women in the workplace – and keep them there,’ he told MailOnline. ‘I am not suggesting the UK advocates it – but we could work out how to do it. If you want to keep everyone happy in the workplace, don’t do Big Brother stuff, like CCTV in the toilets, just be fair and respect people and use your judgement.’
And what about men, who will question why women should get up to 36 days of paid leave a year? ‘Because,’ he said. ‘Do you want a cup of tea when you get home in the evening? Do you want your wife to be in pain?’
‘It’s not men who have to get pregnant, go through IVF and childbirth. ‘Men will just have to understand.’
He also praises recent egg freezing initiatives proposed by Apple and Google for female staff. He said: ‘Apple and Google have done nothing more than acknowledge that women can and should manage their reproductive health and well being as they see fit, whether it is the contraceptive pill, having a termination of pregnancy for social reasons or exploiting IVF technology. ‘Google should be applauded for its initiative.
‘Will we soon hear about employers offering to pay for termination of pregnancy if unwittingly conceived in the workplace? ‘Or is this a step too far for the nerds of Silicon Valley?’
He added that all the changes in women’s fertility and reproduction that came in the second half of the 20th century brought about considerable change and also caused a great deal of comment.
‘The launch of the contraceptive Pill in 1961 has been described as the most significant medical advance of the 20th century and it was followed by the Abortion Act of 1967,’ he said. ‘These changes were all hotly debated at the time of their introduction but they have made an enormous change to women’s ability to follow a career. ‘
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