French town introduces paid menstrual leave
A town on the outskirts of Paris has become the first French municipality to give paid menstrual leave to staff experiencing period pain.
Under the new legislation, employees in Saint-Ouen will be able to take up to two days off work each month without losing pay, albeit with the approval of a doctor. Alternatively they can choose to work from home.
The scheme was announced by Saint-Ouen’s mayor Karim Bouamrane on International Women’s Day (March 8), who hopes similar legislation will be passed across France.
During an interview on radio station France Info, Bouamrane said, “We must put an end to this suffering in silence – and indeed this denial of suffering. The aim is to break a taboo on the subject and that women who suffer from painful periods no longer feel stigmatised.”
Now French lawmakers are working on a bill to extend paid menstrual leave to the private sector.
Menstrual leave around the world
Saint-Ouen’s bill follows the recent introduction of menstrual leave in Spain, where a similar law was approved in December 2022, making it the first European country to offer this provision.
Aside from Spain, only a small number of countries across the globe offer paid menstrual leave for women who suffer from painful periods, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Zambia.
In February this year, Kerala became the first Indian state to give menstrual leave to students in all government-run higher educational institutions. The Kerala higher education department issued the order stating that menstruating students would be able to take part in semester exams with 73% attendance, instead of the usual 75% required by universities.
The case against menstrual leave
Not everyone agrees, however. In response to Saint-Ouen’s menstrual law, Ophélie Latil of the feminist group Georgette Sand said, “It’s a half-measure that conceals the need for a more comprehensive approach to women’s health at work. She added that enabling women to work from home while on their periods “only isolates them and covers up their pain.”
In Spain, the opposition Popular Party (PP) and union UGT were critical of the menstrual leave allowance, saying it would be harmful to women’s access to the labour market.
Additionally some researchers say that period leave can in fact contribute to menstrual stigma by “perpetuating gender stereotypes, negatively impacting the gendered wage gap, and reinforcing the medicalization of menstruation.”
The intertwined problems of period poverty and period stigma
Period stigma remains a huge problem around the world. Many women feel unable to tell their employer about painful periods, while many girls skip school as a result – it’s estimated that almost a quarter of schoolgirls in India drop out permanently when they start menstruating.
This stigma can also lead to tragedy – in Kenya, a 14-year-old schoolgirl killed herself after a teacher shamed her for staining her uniform during her first period.
Meanwhile, it is estimated that 500 million women and girls don’t have access to products to manage their periods safely, hygienically and without embarrassment. This is a worldwide issue: studies show that 64% of women in the US cannot afford menstrual products, while 6% of UK parents say they have been so desperate to provide their daughters with menstrual products that they have resorted to stealing.
Canada, Australia and Germany are among the countries that have either lowered or eliminated taxes on sanitary products to eradicate period poverty. So far Scotland is the first to provide free sanitary products under its Period Products Act.
Although there are differing opinions on how to address the stigma surrounding menstruation, making period products accessible is a start towards reducing period poverty, while helping to remove the shame so many women still feel when they are menstruating.
Featured image: Photo by Katemangostar / Freepik