‘Period Leave’: a privilege or a necessity?

Imogen Braddick 

Period leave: providing women with paid leave when their time of the month gets too painful and uncomfortable. Sounds good, right? Tucked up in bed with lots of painkillers and Netflix? Earlier this year, a female-dominated company in Bristol introduced ‘period leave’ for its employees. But, once again, the UK is actually behind on this phenomenon. 

Japan was the first country to introduce a law on period leave in 1941 and in 2001 South Korea also introduced a law to allow women one day off per month. Some provinces in China also allow the same. Yet women often don’t use period leave provision in these countries due to fear of social stigma. Menstruation remains a taboo subject in many countries across the world, not just the UK. Passing a law for period leave may look beneficial from the outside but the stigma remains, and implementation and use of it remains minimal. 

Importantly, what are the implications for gender equality? Are we not reinforcing the view of women as the weaker gender? Some argue period leave is discriminatory and sexist, yet others view it as a medical necessity. 

But maternity leave already weakens a woman’s role in the workplace. It is already a known fact that maternity leave is one of the key reasons that women are less likely to be employed and contributes to receiving a lower salary than men. If companies are legally obliged to allow women to take time off each month, surely they are less likely to be taken on by profit-maximising companies who prioritise productivity over welfare. We live in a capitalist country – do companies really worry about improving equality? Paternity leave is required to enhance gender equality at both home and in the workplace, but I’ll leave that for an entirely separate discussion another time. 

Companies who have enforced period leave argue that it actually helps with productivity – women take time off when they are unable to work due to pain and discomfort and then work more efficiently during the rest of the month. Sound patronising? I agree. 

Should health come first? Should we be encouraging a positive work-life balance? Of course. But that is not possible within our capitalist society. Companies aim for high levels of productivity and output – providing women with multiple benefits is only going to reduce their importance in the workplace. Women are half of our population and half our labour force – gender equality is hideously far away and I’m unsure whether period leave is actually pushing us further away from equality. Maybe it works in other countries because they care about their people, not their profits. 

Simply acknowledging the challenge and pain of periods may be a step forward for some. I’m a feminist; I think both genders should be equal. Yet in this case I think ‘period leave’ is a step too far and I’m hesitant to believe that it is actually going to benefit women in the long-run. Morally it might make you feel better, but with regards to improving the status of women to match that of men, I doubt we will make any progress if ‘period leave’ spreads among companies.

It remains a debated subject and many women are divided on its implementation. It is a legal right in countries where it already exists, but few women take it. One reason being that they get paid for the amount of days they work. Another, it’s a taboo subject – it’s embarrassing for some.

For all we know, it could go the entirely opposite way and actually benefit women in the West. But, historically, dividing genders and allowing some privileges and others not…it is not exactly a flawless plan. It’s not equal either, right?