Work can be tough. Working on your period is even tougher. It is time employers make accommodations for women in the workforce.
Women showing up to work to complete their day-to-day tasks while dealing with menstruation is a story we’ve heard all too much. Dealing with a cocktail of psychological and physical symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and mood swings, while simultaneously being expected to perform as usual is something that has been expected of women in the workplace and in society as a whole. While almost half of the female population may experience menstruation according to UNICEF, it unfortunately is still taboo and highly stigmatized. Periods are normal, however this practice should not continue to be normalized in the workplace, especially when more women are working now than ever.
Women can experience periods that last for several days up to more than a week. Some women even experience having periods several times a month. While symptoms vary between women, common ones include abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, sore breasts, mood swings, and bloating; and the typical cycle includes a combination of symptoms. While symptoms as such would warrant a trip to the doctor’s office, followed by taking the day off to rest, women are expected to just cope and carry on as if it doesn’t feel like a battle is taking place inside of them. This is evident in the abundance of articles, blog posts, and suggestions on how to manage period symptoms at work. Suggestions gathered from such articles include planning around your period, and even setting up a makeshift hospital clinic at your desk, stocked with vitamins, heat pads, and pain relievers.
It is no secret that menstruation affects work performance. Loss of productivity and poor performance are some of the reported outcomes of working on your period. And despite the amount of pain and discomfort associated with periods, many women still do not feel comfortable speaking freely about their experience out of fear of being embarrassed or perceived as weak. Because of this, the infamous tampon-up-the-sleeve trick is a common practice to covertly go to the washroom, and women often hide their tampons and pads, or contain them in discrete carriers developed by companies to protect women from the embarrassment resulting from their period.
Many have been advocating for paid days off for women on their period. Some companies are taking initiative and stepping up in this regard. Recently, DivaCup, who produces products for women and periods, announced that they would be offering their employees paid menstrual leave, for up to 12 days in the year. India-based companies Swiggy and Zomato have also shown their support for their female workers in the form of paid leave. Why aren’t more companies following suit?
There has been opposition to this proposal. Some believe that gendering benefits can be divisive, unfair, an unnecessary expense. Some even argue that paid leave normalizes pain, and gives women an excuse to miss work in place of their male counterparts.
What paid menstruation leave attempts to prevent, however, is unnecessary suffering at work. Some women may argue that period symptoms echo a form of temporary disability because of the psychological and physical symptoms it entails. However, some may argue that it’s not a form of disability. Ways in which period symptoms may represent a form of temporary disability could include:
However, period symptoms have yet to be recognized as a temporary disabilities for the female workforce. Generally, employers would have a duty to accommodate disability in the workplace, but periods are rarely considered. Even though some employers may be understanding enough to allow their employees to take time off, in cases such as these, it is not enough.
The issue of paid menstrual leave needs to be address all across Canada and globally. This way, women would not continue to suffer at work while dealing with menstruation, or have to go into extensive detail about such a personal medical condition to take a day off. Until then, this will continue to be a problem that disproportionately discriminates against females in the workforce.