KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 — The Spanish government recently approved a draft proposal with a broad range of reproductive rights provisions.

The one that made international headlines was paid medical leave for women with severe menstrual pain.

If the bill receives the much-needed votes, it would make Spain the first European country to grant workers paid menstrual leave.

The proposed bill has once again highlighted the long-neglected issue of menstrual health and women’s rights in the workplace across nations that have yet to implement such privileges for their female workforce.

Such leave is currently offered in a small number of countries including Indonesia and South Korea.

To better understand the importance of the policy, Malay Mail asked some experts for their opinion if Malaysia should follow Spain’s footprint in adopting a paid menstrual leave policy.

Dispelling taboos surrounding period cycles

According to women and human rights activist Ivy Josiah, paid menstrual leave should be viewed as part of women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

“Maternity leave is only one aspect of our reproductive life.

“The reproductive life of a woman is from menarche to menopause.” Ivy said she believed the implementation of a paid menstrual leave policy will dispel the taboo surrounding periods.

“Women are embarrassed to even talk about their periods and brave through extreme pain to get to work.

“We are expected to push through and continue delivering with a smile whether it is the workplace or at home.”

Commenting on the practicality of such a policy, Ivy said there will be sceptics that women may abuse this benefit, but she said it can be avoided if they have to produce medical evidence.

“We really should not normalise period pains as something we have to put up with.

“It is a reality for many women who suffer cramps, backaches, migraines and depression.”

She noted that gender-sensitive work policies that enhance employees’ mental and physical health would produce more loyal and committed employees.

Acknowledging women’s biology

A recent study by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that more than half of women who menstruate experience some pain for one to two days each month, with some experiencing acute pain that keeps them from doing their daily chores.

International Islamic University Malaysia sociology lecturer Sh Fatimah AlZahrah Syed Hussein said menstruation is a normal biological experience and many women experience pain and discomfort while menstruating.

“Menstrual leave acknowledges that workers are not all biologically similar and among them there are women that may experience pain and discomfort while menstruating.

“The leave entitlement also serves to validate experiences of menstruation and pain relating to it that have been side-lined or concealed in the past due to menstrual taboos or discriminating attitudes towards menstruation.”

Fatimah, who has done studies on menstrual poverty, said having such a policy acknowledges that women are valued and should not be discriminated against within the working environment.

“It is a move that is inclusive, progressive, and empathetic.

“The workplace has largely been unequal and male-centric, as most of the policies and environment cater and prefer the male body and identify the ‘female body’ to be problematic and disruptive.” According to her, menstrual leave would be a move towards a more inclusive social world.

Citing studies, Fatimah said it was found that menstrual leave can increase workers’ satisfaction and morale, and thus their productivity at work.

“Efforts such as this are also a demonstration of care in employees' general health and well-being.

“Menstrual leave is also a move that encourages and further advances gender equality in a society.”

Better late than never

Sharing similar sentiments, youth advocate and Challenger president Jean Vaneisha Ravindran said the present time was time to experiment the implementation of menstrual leave.

Jean said generations of women have had to go to work while having menstrual pain which potentially impacts their work performance and mental well-being.

“This really boils down to community consciousness, because the facts already show that people with periods are impacted negatively.

“Implementation wise, remote work options might be key in this policy not being 'taken advantage of'.

“Even so, this option is only available if people learn to share their experiences with their managers or direct bosses openly and without fear or taboo.” Jean said breaking the taboo surrounding menstrual health would promote a more efficient workforce in the long run.