Spain pioneers with a menstrual leave for women with severe pain

by Lorraine Williamson
menstrual pain
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MADRID – Women who have severe pain as a result of their menstrual period will now be entitled to three to five days’ leave in Spain every month. The reform plan containing this rule is expected to be approved by the Spanish government on Tuesday. 

This makes Spain the first country in Europe to introduce leave for menstrual pain. Only a few countries in Asia, including Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Zambia in Africa, have such menstrual leave.  

For women with severe complaints 

The special leave only applies to women with severe complaints due to their period. That’s what state secretary Rodríguez for Equality said. She cited as an example women who suffer from dysmenorrhea, severe pain in the abdomen and (lower) back both before and during menstruation. 

Need a clear definition of ‘painful periods’ 

Equality Minister Irene Montero is the mastermind behind the decree. However, she states it is important to clearly define what constitutes a painful period. “It is not about minor discomfort, but serious symptoms such as severe headache, diarrhea, and fever,” the minister added. 

Castellón and Girona already use some kind of menstrual leave 

The leave is a concept that can be adapted. Furthermore, it is not the first time that the problem of women due to difficult periods has come up. In addition, there are municipalities, such as Castellón and Girona, that already include recoverable leave days in their contracts for eight days a month for this purpose. 

More measures that promote healthy menstruation 

The reform package also includes other measures to promote healthy menstruation. Schools will be required to provide sanitary pads and tampons to students. VAT on tampons and sanitary towels will also be abolished. This will mean that women with little income can also pay for them. 

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Wider access to abortion 

The State Secretary for Equality also wants to broaden access to abortion. This would mean that girls aged 16 and 17 no longer need permission from their parents for such an operation. The public health system must guarantee that women can have an abortion safely. 

Debate 

As a result of the proposed measures, a debate has arisen about the difficulty of determining when a woman’s symptoms related to menstruation are so severe that leave is allowed. 

A survey published by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo shows that 88% of women with frequent and debilitating pain still fulfill their work obligations. And 67% of women are in favour of the legal regulation of menstrual leave. However, 75% believe that this right would be a double-edged sword and also become a ground for discrimination in the workplace. 

Thoughts on implementing menstrual leave 

Marisa Cruzado and Maite Sáenz, promoters of the SFS Awards for companies that focus on health, flexibility, and sustainability, have reservations about the implementation of menstrual leave: “Given the business realities of large, medium, and small Spanish companies, we seriously doubt that the viability of a measure such as this”. 

The danger of stigmatising women 

A medical leave should be based on a comprehensive medical examination of its causes and showing that no appropriate treatment is available. This conflicts with the protection of personal data. In addition, the promoters state that “the economic impact on organizations is not taken into account”. Finally, they believe that “women are stigmatised as returning patients (every month) because of a biological gender problem”. 

For this reason, they conclude, such a measure would make it even more difficult for women to participate in selection processes or be promoted to positions of greater responsibility within an organisation. 

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