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by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 13
June 2023
Debate
13:15

Paid period leave doesn’t help women

MPs are wrong to think the idea is progressive
by Kristina Murkett
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag. Credit: Wallpapers

Earlier this month Spain became the first European country to offer paid menstrual leave, an idea that is gaining traction among UK MPs who are keen to be seen as progressive by making businesses more female-friendly. Labour is already talking about a menopause action plan in an attempt to help women to stay or return to the workforce (one survey found that one in ten women between 45-55 years old had quit their job due to symptoms), and several charities are now calling for those with painful periods to have three days off a month.

The problem is that menstruation and menopause are not disabilities. Women should not suffer in silence, and we need genuine empathy, understanding, and flexibility in the workplace. But is paid period leave really the answer? Such a policy could easily be weaponised as a way to discriminate against women: why hire and promote women of child-bearing age, who already have the “inconvenience” of maternity leave, but now also the luxury of monthly time off?

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this policy would feed into this narrative that periods are synonymous with pain, and that it is “normal” for women to suffer with intense symptoms every month. It is not. Anyone who is incapacitated by period pains to the point they cannot go to work is medically unwell and should go to a doctor (who would hopefully provide a sick-note anyway).

Too often, we tell women and young girls that feeling awful on your period is just an unfortunate, inevitable biological reality, and therefore the pain shouldn’t be of concern, treated or investigated. Phoebe Waller-Bridge summed it up in Fleabag when she wrote, “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny – period pains, sore boobs, childbirth. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives.”

Yet if we dismiss and diminish our pain, then the medical establishment will too. Endometriosis, a condition that affects about 10% of women of reproductive age, can be completely debilitating, and yet the average time for a diagnosis is eight years. One survey in the US found that 75% of women with endometriosis were initially misdiagnosed with another physical health problem, while half were told it was due to their mental health. Despite the severity of the symptoms, 75% said they would not go to a doctor if they were suffering, either because they considered painful periods to be a normal part of life or because it was not serious enough to bother a doctor with.

If MPs and businesses really want to be seen as progressive and inclusive, why not prioritise research into the myriad conditions – endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, zinc deficiency, magnesium deficiency – that cause 40% of women to say periods regularly affect their work? Less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated to reproductive health, despite the fact that one in three women in the UK will suffer from a reproductive or gynaecological health problem.

There are five times as many studies into erectile dysfunction (which affects 19% of men) as there are into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women. It is exactly this kind of oversight which means that the contraceptive pill is prescribed as a temporary mask for so many conditions — PCOS, heavy periods, acne, migraines — rather than dealing with the root problem.

We currently have a record number of people on sick leave, a record number of working days lost to sickness, and a record number of job vacancies. Women are disproportionately represented in all of those, but too often political short-termism means that we focus on managing the symptoms rather than tackling the cause. We don’t need special categories for sick leave: we need serious conversations about what is holding women back, both physiologically and socially.

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Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
5 months ago

I can’t imagine anything more misogynistic than paid period leave. It reinforces every negative stereotype about women being incapacitated once a month by a normal biological process. Insane.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
5 months ago

If Labour are planning an “action plan” concerning menopausal women, who will be the first self-identifying trans person to try to take advantage of it?
Let me be clear, i’m 100% in favour of women both taking their place in the workforce according to their talents and skills, and of those who do so being treated by all with the necessary professional empathy when they’re not having a good day – for whatever reason. The same applies to men who may be having some non-work related difficulty. That’s all that needs to happen, and i suspect (from my own experience of working alongside very many talented women in the NHS) that’s all they’d want too.
Medicalising periods and legislating around it will simply be counterproductive, as the author suggests. Medical issues around women’s reproductive systems are an entirely different matter, and should be treated as with every other medical condition.

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Murray
Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

In the mental and physical fairness to this paid 3 days off – men should get 3 paid days off to watch porn and whack off every month. Hey – men and women – they have different biology, and so different needs.

”So got any special plans for your whacker days this month?”

”Na, just the usual”

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott
5 months ago

The claim that there are fives times as many studies on ED as on PMS has been repeated in several places. However, think that it should not be taken on face value.
The source of the claim is an article in Researchgate here https://www.researchgate.net/blog/why-do-we-still-not-know-what-causes-pms. It doesn’t provide any information other than, “We counted the number of studies we have on ResearchGate.” It is not reproducible, and there’s no supporting data or methodology.
If you go to google scholar then you get a different result. Searching for “PMS” returns 707,000 articles, where as “Erectile Dysfunction” gives 355,000. Of course, this is hardly a scientific approach, but it’s just the same as ResearchGate.
Another piece of nonsense that’s doing the rounds is that women have to wait longer for pain killers in the US. Sounds awful, until you read the article which explains that it is women under the age of 50 who have to wait longer, and the reason for that is because they have to have a pregnancy test. Apparently doctors are reluctant to administer dangerous painkillers to potentially pregnant women for fear of harming an unborn child – the cads! (The article is here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00100.x)
Finally, you may have read that the UK has the 12th worse gender health gap in the world. This claim is based upon a complete piece of quackery – https://www.manual.co/mens-health-gap/

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Abbott

Thanks for that info. Very similar to “98% of all climate scientists agree that …”. I had always wondered how that determination was made. Turns out to be complete drivel.

polidori redux
polidori redux
5 months ago

Perhaps in earlier ages both women and men accepted that pain was an inescapable part of life. We are born in pain and likely die in pain. Enjoy the fun bits when they come round.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
5 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Not sure if the requisite hut for menstruating women was a myth or not–if true, not a bad way to decompress.
Kind of like smoking. I can’t stand second-hand smoke, but I’ve always envied someone being able to say they needed a few minutes to step outside a building into nature and basically do breathwork while simultaneously self-medicating. It’d be nice if one could just say, “oh, begging your pardon, but I’m going to step outside for a few minutes, because you f&cks are driving me crazy and I need to reset my vagal tone.”

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
5 months ago

They still have huts where women are forced to stay during their periods: “Chhaupadi is an ancient tradition practised in some rural parts of Nepal. It involves banishing people, often young girls, to mud huts or sheds for the duration of their period, or even longer. It is believed they will otherwise bring their family bad luck, or ill health.”
Women and girls are left with no supplies or washing facilities during their time away from home. “this can cause a range of health issues, along with physical and psychological hardship”
“They might also be placed in considerable danger: there have been multiple reports of deaths in chhaupadi huts due to suffocation, fire, pneumonia and animal attacks.”
https://www.actionaid.org.uk/our-work/period-poverty/chhaupadi-and-menstruation-taboos#:~:text=Chhaupadi%20is%20an%20ancient%20tradition,bad%20luck%2C%20or%20ill%20health.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
5 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

They also do this to women and girls in India, where life for women is appalling.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
5 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Most women can avoid period pain by taking an ibuprofen before the cramps start. Taking the bc pill also prevents cramps and makes bleeding almost non existent. Women with severe pain typically have a medical condition. It’s not normal for period pain to be incapacitating.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
5 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I completely agree with you. There is confusion between rights and ideals and a refusal by some sections of society to acknowledge we do not live in Utopia.

Last edited 5 months ago by Aphrodite Rises
Jane Tomlinson
Jane Tomlinson
5 months ago

This is such a regressive step back to women being seen as a liability in the workplace. We fought to gain opportunities outside ‘women’s work’ looks like younger generations are throwing them away. To see periods pregnancy and menopause as disabilities is to label women as defective. We are not. We are more than capable and we need champions on our side, not enemies booing us from the wings.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
5 months ago

So feminists have spent the last few decades telling us that women can hack it in the tough world of employment, except now they can’t, and a bit of state help in evening out the playing field would be welcome.

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago

Agree that medical research is a far better response here than creating yet more “protected groups” within society who get legally enforced special treatment. And all in the same of “progressivism” and “equality” !
At the end of the day, work is the voluntary exchange of time for money in which we compete to offer our services so that businesses can serve customers and thereby make a profit. The UK invented the limited company – we really should know this stuff off by heart.
All this tinkering around the edges trying to make businesses carry other responsibilities and prioritise other objectives over their central one is – in my view – incredibly dangerous and short-sighted. The certain result is less competitive and viable companies and declining productivity (which might be the real objective of some people pushing these “progressive” agendas).
If we must have social engineering, keep it out of companies and let the state do it (and do it badly) where we can observe the effects and eventually vote to change it.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
5 months ago

Labour pretending to be on the side of women (whilst happy to give their rights away to trans identifying men).
Menstruation and menopause problems can and should be dealt with within existing employment laws as with any other sickness or disability, though we definitely need better healthcare options to diagnose and treat conditions.
This is guaranteed to fuel resentment and will feed right into the backlash against feminism. And there’s a whiff of declaring women as less able, less employable, as slightly inferior second class humans.
Women supporting this feels a bit like turkeys and Christmas.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
5 months ago

This idea is ludicrous – yes of course periods can be a problem for some women, but there are ways of dealing with that if you see a decent GP and get some help. All this will do is make employers reluctant to employ women. As women, periods, and menopause, are something we have to deal with – including medical intervention if necessary. It is not an issue for employers.

Nathan Ngumi
Nathan Ngumi
5 months ago

Word.