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Support women with policies that embrace menstrual cycles: Mochama

There’s scant data on Canadian women’s period experience (a problem in itself) let alone on the work and money lost due to their menstrual cycle.

Employers and the government should provide for paid menstrual leave, writes Vicky Mochama.

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Employers and the government should provide for paid menstrual leave, writes Vicky Mochama.

Riddle me this: If a woman is bleeding but not dying and yet feels like she is, what time should she get to work?

Women who experience severe menstrual pain can answer this riddle in two ways: go to work or school, or don’t.

The real answer is that employers and the government should provide for paid menstrual leave. Currently, the federal government has several ways for workers to be out of the workplace: “Maternity Leave, Parental Leave, Compassionate Care Leave, Leave Related to Critical Illness and Leave Related to Death or Disappearance.” Added to that is a leave option for army reservists.

None of these addresses a form of leave that Canadian women, with or without their employer’s support, are already taking. There’s scant data on Canadian women’s period experience (a problem in itself) let alone on the work and money lost due to their menstrual cycle. We can draw some conclusions from international research.

Up to 20 per cent of women report having severe menstrual symptoms that prevent them from working or going to school. Women in the U.K. take 17 million days off annually while women in the United States lose 100 million hours of work for their periods.

Personally speaking, I know I will be home one day a month focusing on managing my body. To my employers, however, I’m “working from home.” Honestly, I am watching murder mysteries, sitting still and trying not to scream. That’s not an option available to a lot of women.

A prior generation of women fought for paid maternity leave that now includes paid leave for both parents. The next fight doesn’t have to be one. There are young women who are leading the way. They’re demanding a space for themselves in workplaces and in public policy.

During the Daughters of the Vote day on Parliament Hill, student Maymuna Mohamed spoke eloquently on the need for paid menstrual leave in Canada. She said, “We shouldn’t have to bear pain for men’s comfort. If these symptoms were associated with any other illness, we all know we’d most likely get sick leave.”

Yet women who experience debilitating discomfort are not using sick leave for the periods. In a working atmosphere where women are paid less than men for similar work and female leadership is still symbolic instead of standard, women simply suffer in silence.

It is reasonable to worry that paid menstrual leave will further stigmatize women or make employment harder for them. But the response to a culture that shames women is not to enshrine that shame. Rather, we should support women as loudly as possible with policies that embrace their most private needs.

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