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Giving women time off for periods would be unfair - but we need to talk about them more

A company in the UK has introduced a “period policy” that will allow women leave if they are suffering.

PERIODS. YOU WOMEN know what I’m talking about. Every month with the cramping and the crankiness and the quick tears and the CSI scene in your underpants.

Coexist, a community interest company in Bristol, is the first company in the UK to introduce “paid period leave.” Seventeen of their 24 staff members are female and from now on they will be granted paid time off work whenever they’re cramping.

Bex Baxter, one of the directors at Coexist, told The Bristol Post:

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. 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. Nothing like this has been done in the UK before, we believe, and if it has, it has been very small.When women are having their periods they are in a winter state, when they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies. The spring section of the cycle, immediately after a period, is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual.

Nike have written a similar menstrual leave into their Code Of Conduct since 2007.

shutterstock_245047114 (1) Shutterstock / Piotr Marcinski Shutterstock / Piotr Marcinski / Piotr Marcinski

The reality of period pain for women 

A Panadol study reveals that about 40% of women have lied about being on their period to get out of doing something – from sports to sex. About 20% said they used this excuse to explain a bad mood or an irritable behavior. Some of them also said they used the “time of the month” as an excuse to take some time out.

The research also found that most women (90% of us) suffer from period pain and among them, 76% reported experiencing the pain for longer than a day.

I kind of see how it would be a good idea if a woman like me — who is lucky enough to not deal with much in the way of PMS besides highly increased irritability — got a couple of days off per month. I’d use them to do stuff that I don’t want to waste my precious weekends on.

I’m also 100% percent certain that added time off or professional dispensations given only to women would be used to support arguments that women aren’t as competent as men.

And that simply can’t happen. Menstruation isn’t a physical handicap. The belief that every woman needs time to deal with her period makes menstruation seem like some challenging monthly disability. It really isn’t.

Women’s bodies are poorly enough understood as it is. Period leave would only exacerbate the patriarchal notions that women’s normal bodily functions are thought of as polluting or dangerous.

A special law is patronising 

For those of us who don’t wish to be defined by our gender, a special law focused on easing the menstrual burden on female workers is patronising. Such a law would discriminate against men too.

Could you really look Mark from accounts in the eye when you return from your 2-day chocolate-scoffing as he tries to battle through his own day with a rattling chest infection?

Another argument being used to advocate for period leave is that women shouldn’t feel they have to invent other less embarrassing illnesses when they need to take a sick day.

“If men could menstruate,” Gloria Steinem wrote, they “would brag about how long and how much.” The implication being that in a non-patriarchal society, women would be loud and proud about every used tampon and every mood swing.

Even now that science confirms that many of us are dealing with a storm of hormones and real pain, there are still strong social incentives to keep quiet about them.

If your period is so debilitating, woman up and tell your boss why you’re really taking that day off. We need to normalise periods, not make them a mysterious illness that prompts female workers to disappear for a few days each month.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath

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