Spain has become the first country in Europe to introduce menstrual paid leave, a landmark law that grants women and people who menstruate time off during their period of up to three days per month - with the possibility of extending it to five days - for those with debilitating periods, which can cause severe cramps, nausea, dizziness and even vomiting. The leave requires a doctor's note, and the public social security system will foot the bill. The law states that the new policy will help combat the stereotypes and myths that still surround periods and hinder women's lives.
The bill approved by Parliament is part of a broader package on sexual and reproductive rights that includes allowing 16- and 17-year-olds in Spain to now undergo an abortion without parental consent. Period products will now be offered free in schools and prisons, while state-run health centers will do the same with hormonal contraceptives and the morning-after pill. A separate package of reforms also approved by lawmakers strengthened transgender rights, including allowing any citizen over 16 years old to change their legally registered gender without medical supervision.
What Is Menstrual Leave?
Menstrual leave is an increasingly popular and debated concept across the world whereby employers provide female and menstruating employees with the option of paid or unpaid leave for menstrual pain. This leave may be taken for the length of a day or a few days during the menstrual cycle. Menstruation can cause severe discomfort, and pain, as well as an intense hormonal fluctuation that can lead to an increased vulnerability to depression. Endometriosis, a difficult menstrual condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes – affects roughly 10% (190 million) of reproductive-age women and girls globally.
Having such a measure at their disposal allows employees to be in the comfort of their homes instead of at the office. This is in hopes to benefit workplace productivity and morale as menstrual leave works to reduce gender-based inequality by providing a form of workplace support that specifically caters to women's needs.
Which Countries Have Menstrual Leave?
Japan introduced menstrual leave in the labor law in 1947. Under Article 68, the law mandates that employers cannot ask women who experience difficult periods to work on those days. Scholars have traced the call for such leave to a strike by female conductors working for the Tokyo Municipal Bus Company in 1928. At the end of World War II, the debate was reignited by women, desperately seeking jobs, who found a lack of adequate sanitary facilities at workplaces.
Indonesia is another Asian country that became an early adopter of the menstrual leave policy. The policy, which was introduced in 1948 and restructured in 2003, says that female workers experiencing menstrual pain are not obliged to work on the first two days of their cycle. Scholars note that the “2003 reforms weakened menstrual leave as a workplace entitlement,” making it subject to negotiations between employers and workers.
In South Korea, Article 73 of the labor law provides for monthly “physiologic leave,” under which all female workers can get a day’s leave every month. An Asiana airlines official in 2021 was indicted by a local court for refusing period leave sought by flight attendants. Dismissing the claim that the employees did not prove whether they were menstruating, the court fined the official $1,790.
Article 14 of Taiwan’s gender equality in employment law grants female employees the right to request a day off every month for period leave at half their regular wage. However, if more than three such leaves are taken in a year, the additional days are counted toward sick leave.
Vietnam is another Asian country to factor in menstruation days for female workers. Its labor law stipulates a 30-minute break for women every day of their period cycle. In a 2020 reform, menstrual leave of three days a month was added. Female workers who choose to not take such leave need to be paid extra.
In Africa, Zambia introduced the concept of a Mother’s Day, in which a female worker is entitled to one day of leave every month without giving a reason or requiring a medical certificate.