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Spain set to become the first European country to introduce 3 days of 'menstrual leave' for women

By Natalie Huet  & Laura Llach
The Spanish government is expected to offer women days off work for painful periods.   -   Copyright  Canva

Spain could become the first Western country to allow women to take several days of paid “menstrual leave” from work each month under proposed legislation to be outlined next week.

"We will recognise by law the right of women with painful menstruation to a special temporary incapacity that will be paid for by the state from day one," Spain's equality minister Irene Montero, an outspoken feminist in the leftwing government, said on Friday.

"We are making progress so that it is no longer normal to go to work in pain and to put an end to the stigma, shame and silence surrounding menstruation. We are making progress on rights," she said on Twitter.

But the issue is proving controversial. Politicians and trade unions are divided over a plan some fear could backfire and stigmatise women in the workplace.

The Spanish government is expected to endorse the menstrual leave as part of a broader draft bill on reproductive health and abortion rights, details of which are set to be disclosed on Tuesday.

The proposed law would introduce at least three sick days each month for women who suffer from severe period pains, according to El Pais newspaper.

The newspaper reports that this "medically supervised leave" could even be extended to five days for women with disabling periods who suffer severe cramps, nausea, dizziness and vomiting.

Worldwide, menstrual leave is currently offered only in a small number of countries including Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia.

"If this Spanish legislation is passed, and if it’s paid leave, it will set a new global standard, a gold standard," Elizabeth Hill, an associate professor at the University of Sydney who has extensively studied menstrual leave policies worldwide, told Euronews Next.

We are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, severe headaches, fever
Ángela Rodríguez
Spanish Secretary of State for Equality

According to the Spanish Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society, around a third of women who menstruate suffer from severe pain known as dysmenorrhea. 

Symptoms include acute abdominal pain, diarrhoea, headaches and fever.

"When the problem cannot be solved medically, we think it is very sensible that there should be temporary incapacity associated with this issue," Ángela Rodríguez, Spain’s Secretary of State for Equality and against Gender Violence, told El Periodico newspaper in a recent interview. 

"It is important to clarify what a painful period is, we are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, severe headaches, fever," she added.

'Stigmatising women'

This proposal for a period of leave is not a done deal, and the country's left-wing coalition government itself is reportedly divided over the plan. 

While the far-left Podemos is pushing for it, some Socialists have voiced concern a menstrual leave could backfire against women by discouraging employers from hiring them.

In the long term, it may be one more handicap that women have in finding a job
Cristina Antoñanzas
Deputy secretary, UGT trade union

Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of the UGT, a leading Spanish trade union, even warned that the move could "stigmatise women".

"In the long term, it may be one more handicap that women have in finding a job," she told Euronews Next. 

"Because we all know that on many occasions we have been asked if we are going to be mothers, something that must not be asked and that men are not asked. Will the next step be to ask us if we have period pains?"

Antoñanzas complained that labour unions were not involved in the government’s discussions.

"When legal measures and changes are put on the table, the impact on women must be analysed very carefully. We don't know whether companies will accept it or not," she said.

Devil in the details

Spain’s other main trade union, Comisiones Obreras, supports the idea of menstrual leave.

"We think it will help women," Carolina Vidal, its confederal secretary for Women, Equality and Working Conditions, told Euronews Next.

"We have been fighting all our lives against stigmatisation by society, politics and the economy. Do we now have to hide because we are women and have painful menstruation? This is contrary to feminism. We must not have to go to work in pain".

We have been fighting all our lives against stigmatisation by society, politics and the economy. Do we now have to hide because we are women and have painful menstruation?
Carolina Vidal
Comisiones Obreras confederal secretary for Women, Equality and Working Conditions

However, Comisiones Obreras raised concerns over the details of the proposal, particularly whether women would have to prove they suffer from a condition known to worsen period pain - such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome - to claim this menstrual leave.

"How many women are we leaving out?" Vidal said. "In many, many cases periods become unbearable and disabling, but they are not considered illnesses".

In a statement to the news agency Europa Press on Thursday, Economy Minister Nadia Calviño, a Socialist, said that several drafts of the plan were still under discussion.

"Let me repeat it very clearly, this government believes in and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that could result in the stigmatisation of women", Calviño said.

The draft law would also lower VAT on feminine hygiene products in shops and make period products available for free in schools and educational centres.

According to El Pais, it would make menstrual health part of Spaniards’ right to health, and it specifies that "stereotypes and myths about menstruation that still exist and that hinder women's lives will be combated".

The health bill would also guarantee the right to seek an abortion for free in the country’s public healthcare system and scrap the requirement for 16 and 17-year-olds to obtain parental consent for the procedure.

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