Why The Debate On Period Pain Leave Is Painting Women's History Month Red

by Ankita Singh

There's a huge debate in the women's sections of most major media publications, and it's not just because it's Women's History Month. It's been fueled by the decision of a Bristol-based company called Coexist to introduce a period leave policy for its largely female staff.

Nike has had a similar policy in place since 2007. Surprisingly, Southeast Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been way ahead of the curve by having similar regulations in place. In fact, in Japan — as way back as 1947 — labor unions demanded and got a law that allowed women to take time off during their menstrual cycles if they suffered from crippling pain.

Bex Baxter, Coexist's director, explained the move by saying,

I have managed many female members of staff over the years, and I have seen women at work who are bent over because of the pain caused by their periods. Despite this, they feel they can't go home because they don't classify themselves as unwell. This is unfair. At Coexist, we are very understanding. If someone is in pain – no matter what kind – he or she is encouraged to go home. But for us, we wanted a policy in place that recognizes and allows women to take time for their body's natural cycle without putting it under the label of illness.

My ovaries did a joyful jig in solidarity when I read this. I don't suffer from the kind of pain that makes me bend over, but I know plenty of women who do.

I've seen their faces scrunched up in pain as they hobble around the room, looking for a painkiller or a hot water bag. I've seen them leave for office with faces drained of color because they had no more paid sick leaves left. I've seen colleagues hunched over their desks — having given up any feeble attempt at work — because they felt like someone was scraping their uterine walls with their nails.

The number of heads of organizations who think along Baxter's lines are few, even though reports suggest that period pain can feel as bad as a heart attack. Another study by the University of Bath summarized that menstrual pains or cramps have an adverse effect on the productivity and attention spans of healthy women.

One NHS report states that 90 percent of women suffer from menstrual cramps. For 2 percent of those, it's enfeebling.

So, what prevents other enterprises from introducing a similar policy? For starters, a lot of people would add that not all women suffer from debilitating cramps. Secondly, the provision of sick leave already exists. Other doubting Toms will probably term this policy as uneconomical.

But here's the thing: Every company only allows a limited number of paid sick leave days, and I'm pretty certain they aren't enough for women who (say) suffer from severe abdominal cramps two to three days every month of the year. For those worried about the economical impact of such a policy, listen to this: According to a report in The Telegraph, Coexist's policy requires women to rearrange their working hours. They have to make up for the days they miss by redistributing those missed hours to other days in the month.

That last bit should also answer discrimination concerns, especially for those who are about to spout them out. The impact of a policy tailored to a woman's cycle goes further than just providing monthly relief. It's taking the embarrassment and stigma out of the discussion. It's forcing workplaces to pay attention to the 2 percent who are writhing in pain every month.