Women to be offered 'menstrual leave' for period pain in Spain

Women will be offered UNLIMITED ‘menstrual leave’ every month if they suffer severe period pain in Spain under plans approved by the country’s government

  • Spain’s government approved bill which grants paid ‘menstrual leave’ for women
  • Bill allows women experiencing period pain to as much time off as they need
  • The state social security system – not employers – picks up the tab for the leave
  • The proposed legislation must still be approved by Spain’s parliament 
  • The Spanish government today approved a bill which grants paid ‘menstrual leave’ for women who suffer from severe period pain, in what would be a first in Europe.

    The bill allows workers experiencing period pain to an unlimited amount of time off, with the state social security system – not employers – picking up the tab for the medical leave.

    As with paid leave for other health reasons, a doctor must approve the temporary medical incapacity.

    The proposed legislation must still be approved by parliament, with a vote not expected for months. But if the bill is passed, Spain will become the first Western country to give women ‘menstrual leave’.

    Menstrual leave is currently offered only in a small number of countries across the globe, among them South Korea, Japan, Zambia and Indonesia – and none in Europe.

    Under the reform package passed by Spain’s cabinet, schools will be required to provide sanitary products to girls and there will also be changes to the country’s abortion laws.








    Equality Minister Irene Montero said the law will recognise a health problem that has been largely swept under the carpet until now

    Equality Minister Irene Montero said the law will recognise a health problem that has been largely swept under the carpet until now

    It will end the requirement for girls aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent before terminating a pregnancy and include measure to boost access to abortion at private hospitals. 

    It also includes paid leave for pregnant women from week 39 and guarantees the distribution of free menstrual products in public institutions such as schools and health centres. 

    The draft law also states that surrogate pregnancy, which is illegal in Spain, is a form of violence against women.

    It was not clear whether Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority coalition government, which has made women’s rights a priority, has enough support in the assembly to pass the bill.

    The draft bill has provoked a debate in Spain about whether the paid menstrual leave rule will help or hamper women in the workplace. 

    ‘It will only create more conflict when deciding on whether to hire a woman or not,’ said 21-year-old student Pablo Beltran Martin.

    But Equality Minister Irene Montero said the law will recognise a health problem that has been largely swept under the carpet until now.

    ‘Periods will no longer be taboo,’ she told a news conference after the cabinet approved the bill.

    ‘We will be the first country in Europe to introduce a temporary sick leave that is fully financed by the state for painful and incapacitating periods,’ she added.

    ‘No more going to work with pain, no more taking pills before arriving at work and having to hide the fact on days we’re pain that makes us unable to work.’

    The Spanish government today approved a bill which grants paid 'menstrual leave' for women who suffer from severe period pain, in what would be a first in Europe (stock image)

    The Spanish government today approved a bill which grants paid ‘menstrual leave’ for women who suffer from severe period pain, in what would be a first in Europe (stock image) 

    She added: ‘Today we send an international message of support to all women who are fighting for their sexual and reproductive rights.

    ‘We must guarantee that it is the women who decide what happens to their own bodies.’ 

    Montero belongs to the far-left Podemos party, Sanchez’s junior coalition partner which has been the driving force behind the law.

    Actress and singer Cristina Diaz, 28, said: ‘If a woman has a period that prevents her from working I think it’s great that she can ask for a few days off like any person who has a health issue.’

    The bill also addresses so-called conscientious objection, which allows doctors to refuse to carry out abortions – a subject of heated debate between rights groups and right-wing activists. State clinics must provide a willing specialist, it says.

    Raquel del Rio, 36, who works in police forces, poses as she observes a period calendar tracker app on her mobile phone at her home in Madrid, Spain, on Monday

    Raquel del Rio, 36, who works in police forces, poses as she observes a period calendar tracker app on her mobile phone at her home in Madrid, Spain, on Monday

    Marta Vigara Garcia, 37, said she was pleased the new abortion law would facilitate access.

    When she decided to terminate her pregnancy in 2018 after doctors told her the baby had only a slim chance of surviving, she had difficulty getting doctors to perform an abortion.

    ‘They told me that because the baby still had a heartbeat, they wouldn’t do the abortion,’ she said. ‘I had to handle it myself and go to a private clinic.’

    Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985 in cases of rape, if a foetus is malformed or if a birth poses a serious physical or psychological risk to the mother.

    The scope of the law was broadened in 2010 to allow abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, or up to 22 weeks in cases of severe foetal abnormalites. 

    But access to the procedure is complicated by the fact that many doctors in public hospitals refuse to perform abortions.

    The Spanish government’s move comes as thousands of abortion rights supporters rallied across the United States on Saturday, angered by the prospect that the Supreme Court may soon overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalised abortion nationwide half a century ago. 

    From Japan to Zambia: The push for paid menstrual leave 

    Indonesia

    Indonesia passed a law in 2003 giving women the right to two days of paid menstrual leave per month, without giving prior notice.

    But the provision is in practice discretionary.

    Many employers allow only one day a month, while others give no menstrual leave at all, either because they are unaware of the law or choose to disregard it.

    An International Labour Organization report from 2003 warned that the requirement to give women 24 days menstrual leave on top of their 12 days of annual leave represented a ‘significant cost’ for many employers, causing them to discriminate against women in their hiring policy.

    Japan

    In Japan, a law dating as far back as 1947 states that companies must agree to give women menstrual leave if they request it, for as long as they need it.

    It does not, however, require them to pay women during menstrual leave, but around 30 percent of Japanese companies offer full or partial pay, according to a 2020 labour ministry survey.

    Not many women take advantage of the law, however. The survey of around 6,000 companies found that just 0.9 percent of eligible workers had taken menstrual leave.

    South Korea

    In South Korea, women are entitled to one day of unpaid menstrual leave per month, with employers who refuse facing fines of up to 5 million won (£3,135).

    The leave used to be paid until 2004 when South Korea went from a six-day to a five-day work week.

    A 2018 survey showed greater take-up than in Japan, with a little over 19 percent of women taking time off. But many said they choose not to, because of conservative or unfavourable work environments.

    Taiwan

    In Taiwan, the Act of Gender Equality in Employment gives women three days of menstrual leave per year, which are not deducted from the statutory 30 days of regular sick leave.

    Women can only take one day in any given month.

    Like sick leave, workers on menstrual leave receive only 50 percent of their salary.

    Zambia

    Zambia became the envy of other African countries when it passed a law in 2015 allowing women to take a day off work during their period, without giving notice or supplying a doctor’s note.

    While the measure is generally accepted and supported, not all employers willingly comply with the law on what is discreetly referred to as ‘Mother’s Day’.

    But encouraged by trade unions women are starting to exercise their right, communications expert and women’s rights advocate Ruth Kanyanga Kamwi said. 

    Australia, India, France: companies lead the way

    Some companies have not waited to be compelled by law to offer women menstrual leave.

    They include the Victorian Women’s Trust, an Australian gender equality agency, which offers employees 12 days of menstrual and menopause leave; Indian food delivery startup Zomato, which offers 10 days of period leave; and French cooperative La Collective, which gives staff up to one day of period leave per month.

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