March 25, 2022 – In multiple European countries, women demand the introduction of menstrual leave. The idea of menstrual leave, also known as period leave, is that women can ask for a specific number of days off during the year due to pains they experience while on their period.
Menstrual leave is already a reality in some countries in East Asia but in Europe, there are no such opportunities for women with severe cycle-related complaints.
9to5groningen spoke with four women who overcame complications related to their cycle, such as period pains, endometriosis and PMS, and are now helping other women do the same. They agreed that, in theory, the introduction of menstrual leave is a good idea.
Miu is a nutrition advisor in Germany who teaches women how to navigate pains they experience due to endometriosis, a disease where tissue grows outside of the uterus causing symptoms such as pelvic pain and heavy periods. She said she frequently gets contacted by women who say they experience strong menstrual or PMS pains. “Many of the women take painkillers or try to somehow make it through the day,” Miu said.
Research from the Erdbeerwoche in 2020 showed that period pain is almost the norm for people who menstruate. 98 percent of respondents said they experience some form of menstrual complaints and 52 percent said that their pain was strong.
If women who experience menstrual pains, endometriosis, PMS, or other illnesses related to the menstrual cycle, are lucky they have an employer who understands their condition, or a doctor who will write them sick. But for many women, the only solution remains to weather the day with the help of pain medications.
Doctors often meet their patients’ menstrual cycle-related complaints with the recommendation to start taking the pill, leaving the women feeling unheard and their condition sometimes untreated.
Mona Alkhelewi is a Doula with a specialization in pregnancy, birth and the menstrual cycle working in Vienna. She used to experience strong PMS symptoms and said that medical experts did not listen to her complaints. “The doctors did not take me seriously,” Alkhelewi said. The Doula said the doctors’ general message seemed to be “just take the pill and it will all be good.” In the end, Alkhelewi was able to alleviate their pain through lifestyle changes and without taking the pill.
However, what the menstrual experts said should pre-date the implementation is tackling the taboo of speaking about the menstrual cycle. Introducing menstrual leave alone is not enough to help women who experience period pain. In Japan, menstrual leave has already existed since 1947, yet according to a government survey in 2017, only 0.9 percent of women take advantage of it, mainly because they fear being seen as less efficient than their male colleagues.
Critics of menstrual leave also said that introducing such a policy would deter employers from hiring women. Nutritionist Alina Gummert who advises women on how to relieve their cycle-related complaints with the help of their diet said she received push back from a woman once. The woman, who suffered from extreme period pain herself, feared that people would “take advantage of menstrual leave and get too many days off.” How to introduce period leave without making women seem as a liability in the job market is one of the issues surrounding the topic. Still, Gummert said she disagrees with the woman, “People who menstruate have a different body, that’s why they need these days off.”
Blogger Georgia Pfumfel said not only should awareness be spread that many women experience a painful menstrual cycle that does not allow them to work, but also that painful menstrual cycles should not occur in the first place and that they can be treated without resorting to taking the pill or in some cases removing the uterus entirely. “Periods are not a sickness but they can make us unable to work. That is the reality that should be communicated much more,” Pfumfel said.
Cover image: Sora Shimazaki by Pexels