Unsafe Space

The Gair Rhydd Column: Women don’t need time off. Period.

Suggesting women need ‘paid period leave’ from work every month is bloody ridiculous.

Last week, British company ‘Coexist’ publicised that they were developing plans to introduce what they are referring to as their ‘period policy’ (I know, adorable right?) which essentially offers paid leave from work to female employees who need ‘time out of the office’ during their monthly cycle. The company proposes that this would “increases company productivity”, and create a “happier, healthier workplace for everyone”. How delightful.

Despite causing colossal controversy this week, menstrual leave is actually not a new thing. It was first introduced in Japan in the 1920s. A fascinating, but bizarre concept that lawfully allowed ‘menstruating’ women to take days off work. This practice can be seen throughout parts of Asia, including South Korea, where women have the privilege of one whole ‘period day’ off per month, and Taiwan, whose lucky ladies are treated to a whopping three days off work each month (providing they present their bloodied knickers as evidence for inspection- what a treat!).

Don’t get me wrong. Periods suck. I agonised with excruciating period pain throughout high school, and I understand truly how debilitating and painful periods can be. That said, ‘period pain’ was never a valid excuse to take a day off school, nor to be excused from P.E or even to get an extra brownie at lunch when you had no money left on your dinner card (I learned this the hard way). You had to get dressed, go to lessons, play netball in the rain and beg one of your synced-up, equally crippled best mates for a Feminax and a tampon, and get the fuck on with it

I can think of about a billion reasons why paid period leave is a ludicrous idea, not only for the general well-being of a business, but also for women and their ability to be a genuine equal contender in the workplace.

Company director of Coexist, Bex Baxter, argues that their perfect period policy will “change the stigma around women’s issues”. Oh, Bex. Silly Bex. Do you really, honestly think that allowing an office of male (and other female) staff to know exactly when each individual woman is on her period is liberating? There is a lot of things your boss, and male colleagues do not need to know about you, and what time of the year your uterus lining sheds through your vag is absolutely not one of them.

Come on! Women are still desperately trying to prove themselves in a man’s world. Women are already overlooked for promotions and pay rises, without adding that they may need to take a week off every month for those ‘pesky woman’s issues’ to the equation. The same would apply to job interviews. Surely no savvy employer is going to hire a majority female team when there’s the potential they’ll be talking so much time off you won’t see them enough to remember all of their names. This is not equality.

We do not need, or want, special treatment. Do I need to make it clear at each job interview that “oh my periods are alright by the way, I won’t need any time off”? And then when women who do suffer from terrible period pains are asked their biggest weakness at an interview, do they say “ah well I have a shit-ass period that means I’ll need quite a bit of time off, I’ll need to take the period days every month actually”. Fair system? I think not.

I KNOW some women suffer horribly from period pains, and that is poo. However this should be covered by company sick policies. Just as some people are allowed sick leave for chronic back pain, or migraines, some people need leave for periods. No, menstruation is not an illness, but it’s not an excuse either. Let’s not suggest that the majority of the female population deserve three or four extra days off a month to deal with their periods. We don’t. In fact, the NHS web page for period pain, or ‘dysmenorrhoea’ references that in one survey only two per cent of women actually suffer from ‘severe’ pain during their time of the month. Not enough to create a company policy for, clearly.

Not only is the procedure wholly unnecessary, but how could an employer ever possibly manage such a policy accurately and fairly? What kind of a system could be put in place that would confirm whether or not a woman is even on her period? I can’t see the blood-stained panties idea being a global phenomenon, but I am genuinely unsure of an alternative way to actually provide evidence of a period. “Oh, sorry boss, as you can see my tits are slightly more swollen than usual and you see that stonking great spot on my chin? Stupid periods ay!” I’m not sure it would work.

Let’s not be so bold to suggest women wouldn’t lie. Of course they would. Of course I would. If ringing up work and saying “sorry, it’s my period…” was a valid excuse, you know you’d be calling in period-sick after a heavy night out or when it’s badly raining so you can’t be arsed walking in.

So, let’s imagine someone invents a sensible system to determine whether or not a woman is actually on her period, then how does one decide whether or not her discomfort is severe enough to warrant time off? As I can’t imagine a ‘period-o-meter’ exists (if it doesn’t then I’m copyrighting it – essentially a thermometer that measures how cramp-y your cramps are) again, the policy would have to be solely reliant on all women being truthful and honest.

Seriously ladies, if you knew you could get paid time off work every month, just by telling your boss you get bad period pains, don’t you dare tell me that you wouldn’t take those days and run like the wind with them. Oh, I’m having a field day imaging the adventures I could go on with those extra (paid) days off. Even better, as women and their periods naturally sync-up, you could take your work mates with you and your stupid boss would be none the wiser. Brilliant.

Ultimately, if you do genuinely suffer from chronic period pain and you do genuinely need that extra time off then that is fair enough, but this does not need to be a universal company policy. There is too much scope for advantage to be taken of businesses, and employers, and would be, without doubt, a setback for women in the workplace.

So if your period pain, like the majority of women, is simply a bit of backache, rock-like breasts, a lot more poos than usual, and feeling like you have a mini Connor McGregor living inside your womb, and you feel like you need extra time off work every month, then you need to get a grip. You are a woman. You put on some lipstick, have a banana, pop a paracetamol and you get the fuck on with it. You will go to bloody work, and you will prove that you’re bloody more than your bloody menstrual cycle.

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  • Love this. Chuckled a lot. Do suffer from bad ones, but I agree we need to get on with it. Go Helena.