Real Life

This Country Could Be The First In Europe To Offer Women Paid Menstrual Leave

Italy is set to become the first country in Europe to offer paid menstrual leave to women suffering from period pain.

Rome's lower house of parliament has started discussions on a draft law, hailed by Italian Marie Claire as a symbol of progress and social equality.

If approved, the policy will mean all companies in Italy will be compelled to allow women who experience painful periods an extra three days' off a month.

But critics have pointed out that the measure may do nothing to boost Italy's low female employment rate. Only 61% of Italian women work, compared to a European average of 72% (the UK stands at just over 69%).

Writing in women's magazine Donna Moderna, commentator Lorenza Pleuteri said paid menstrual leave runs the risk that "employers could become even more oriented to hire men rather than women".

If the law goes through, Italy would join a number of other countries that allow time off to women on their periods.

Menstrual leave has been a legal right for women in Japan since 1947, although the stigma associated with taking it still puts some women off.

Taiwan, South Korea and Indonesia also have policies in place that mandate time off for women suffering from menstrual cramps.

Lawmakers in Rome are currently discussing the policy of paid menstrual leave in parliament

Bristol-based community interest firm Coexist made headlines last year, after it introduced a policy of period leave for its mostly female workforce.

The measure aimed to "create a happier and healthier working environment".

"As a manager of staff I have seen women really suffer with their periods and I have found them doubled over in a lot of pain," said Ben Baxter, a director at the firm.

"They feel guilty and ashamed for taking time off and often sit at their desks in silence not wanting to acknowledge it.

"It started from there and we thought we had to see what we could do about it and try and break the last great taboo."

Sportswear giant Nike also offers its female employees paid menstrual leave, in a policy put into place in 2007.

There's no doubt that many women do suffer from period pain; the NHS says around 20% of us experience moderate levels, while for 2% it will be severe.

Could paid menstrual leave increase the gender pay gap?

But women, and the workforce at large, remain divided on the issue of creating a legal obligation for time off.

Some argue that, as well as being potentially invasive, the concept of menstrual leave could actually increase the gender pay gap.

"If we insist that one group or another has an extra set of costs associated with their employment then we’ll end up seeing the wages of that group fall relative to groups that don’t have those associated costs," writes finance expert Tim Worstall in Forbes. "The provision of paid menstrual leave will act in exactly this manner."

Amelia Costigan, director of nonprofit company Catalyst, sees paid menstrual leave as a form of "benevolent sexism". She says companies should provide plenty of flex time to both men and women, without the need to know why they use it.

"If somebody has to manage their personal life that’s their personal life, and an organization should trust that person is going to get the work done and they’re accountable for it," she said.

But others welcome menstrual leave as an enlightened move towards happier, more productive teams.

"Menstrual leave is entirely optional, and fears that women would take advantage of the proposal are a little patronising – like we’re just waiting to be given the go-ahead to waste company time by scoffing chocolate and spontaneously crying at pictures of Eddie Redmayne, " says Grazia writer Katie Rosseinsky. "As flexible working and healthier workspaces are becoming the norm, let’s hope that in a couple of years the idea of menstrual leave won’t seem headline-grabbing at all."

READ MORE: Debate: Should Menstrual Leave Become Company Policy?

READ MORE: How Women Are Breaking The Menstrual Taboo

Grazia magazine cover