Throughout several days every month, many women around the world suffer from menstrual pain (the symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle) by varying degrees. Some turn to pain killers in order to manage their daily duties, hiding sickness during work, while others can barely leave their beds.
For the first time in Egypt, a marketing company decreed earlier this month to offer its female employees a day off every month: the first or second day of their menstruation. The move raised debates among both women and men equally over the positive and negative effects of such a decision if applied in the country’s labour market.
Critics claim that business owners would hire fewer women, viewing women as less capable of working. Some of them already prefer unmarried women or females without children to reduce the numbers of days off during their work hours, they added.
However, supporters believe that the ‘menstrual leave’ is a much-delayed right, especially since several companies around the world have already been offering this kind of vacation to women.
In fact, the ‘menstrual leave’ already exists in several countries where women who severely suffer from menstrual pain are offered one or two days off, either paid or unpaid. Those countries include Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, and South Korea. In other parts of the world, ‘menstrual leave’ policies emerged in some companies including the United Kingdom.
In Egypt, female workers already have the right to take a paid vacation of three months after giving birth only twice throughout their work history, according to the country’s Labour Law. Female labourers are also allowed to take an unpaid vacation not exceeding two years to take care of their children, only twice throughout their work history.
Menstruation is stigmatised
Menstrual symptoms usually include psychological and physical sickness. Women feel pain in the form of stomach cramps, lower back pain, breast pain, headaches, lack of concentration as well as mood swings.
As menstruation is still stigmatised, women prefer not to mention such symptoms if they need to take a day off from work. Female workers rarely talk openly about their menstrual cycles and their need to a paid vacation as they fear they might lose their jobs or because menstruation is still a taboo subject in society.
A 2016 research revealed that menstrual pain can be “as bad as having a heart attack,” according to John Guillebaud, professor of family planning and reproductive health at University College London. However, ‘period pain’ still is not taken seriously by many doctors.
On the other hand, women experience menstrual pain differently. A 2012 study found that 20% of women experience their periods painful enough to interfere with their daily activities.
First of its kind in Egypt
The Egyptian company which took the initiative stated that every female employee is allowed to take a paid day off from their menstruation days. If there is an urgent need for work, women could work from home, the company explained.
“This came following an initiative launched by a number of feminist organisations and out of our keenness toward our employees being in sound mind and body,” Rania Youssef, the office and human resources manager of the company told Daily News Egypt (DNE).
“We want all female employees to feel comfortable in their workplace. If they are not ok, they have the right to leave the office and get some rest for a day,” Youssef added.
Youssef disclosed that 90% of the company’s workforce are females, with ages ranging from 23 to 28. “The decree was not faced by any kind of rejection from the male employees,” Youssef noted.
Some detractors claim that the company, which was launched two years ago, took such a move to draw attention to itself. Yet, Youssef said that they did so for the sake of the health of the company’s female employees.
One day is not enough
Mahmoud Ragab, an art director and a team leader said that one day will not be enough for women during their menstruation. “I witness these kinds of physical pain and physiological changes with my wife, as she usually becomes very sick during her periods,” Ragab told DNE. “Therefore, I believe that the vacation could range from two or three days, as one day is really not enough.”
Meanwhile, Ragab said that he would not mind allowing a female employee within his team to take days off if she is menstruating. “I will never hesitate to allow her days off. I do not believe it is an unjust measure, as women really suffer during their periods.”
Similarly, Eman agreed with the new measure, criticising those who accused women of being incapable in the labour market. “Every woman has the right to take a ‘menstrual leave’ if she feels sick and cannot manage her work,” Eman told DNE.
Furthermore, Eman noted that even people suffering from mental illness have the right to have days off, as this shall never undermine their abilities or skills.
Meanwhile, Fatma said that she wishes everyone, males or females, would have the right to wake up in the morning and request a day off if they are not ok, “Without needing to reveal the reason behind their request,” Fatma told DNE.
It is inequitable
Yet, other women warned that such a decision, if applied in each institution or business, would have a negative effect on the female’s participation rate in the labour market.
“I am totally against such a measure. It would lead to a remarkable decrease in women’s employment opportunities in the labour market. We already suffer from such a cut-down,” Yousra told DNE.
Meanwhile, Heba opposed the concept of the ‘menstrual leave’, explaining that such a move might make business owners prefer men over women. “Such a measure will support the notion that women should not leave their homes or work and such ridiculous ideas.”
Yet, Mariam said that companies have to be aware that some women will not be able to work during the first day of their menstruation.
“Unfortunately, there are companies which include doctors and pharmacists who are not aware how severe period pain is,” Mariam told DNE.
“Once I was very sick, and I turned to the company’s clinic and asked for a day off. I was literally crying from the pain. However, the doctor refused to authorise my request, noting that he can’t allow me a day off just because I have my period! This is not fair,” Mariam recalled.
Concurrently, Hebatullah voiced that the concept should be optional, as women who cannot work during menstruation can take a day off, while others who do not suffer much should go to work as usual. “By the way, I am from these women whose first day of menstruation is like hell. I might even faint from the severity of the pain.”
On the other hand, Karim Al-Sayed, a marketing consultant, revealed that he does not mind that his female colleagues take days off more than him. “I think they need to take a day off if they are suffering from period pain. They really need it.”
However, Al-Sayed said that in a patriarchal society, women would face ridiculous comments due to their ‘menstrual leave.’
“They are already struggling with such a sexist society, and if they reveal the reasons behind their vacation they will face more undesirable comments as the period is still a taboo subject.”