Italy’s Parliament is currently debating a proposed law to mandate three days of paid menstrual leave each month to female employees.
If you are part of the 20% of women who experience debilitating periods that “interfere with daily activities,” treating periods like sick leave may sound great. The Italian edition of Marie Claire described the draft law as “a standard-bearer of progress and social sustainability.”
But offering leave may only make menstruation more stigmatized than it already is.
Employers may be more reluctant to hire menstruating workers
Based on statistics of the Italian workforce, if you bleed, you may be asked to leave.
With only 61% of Italian women working, Italy already has one of the lowest European rates female participation in the workforce. The European average is 72%. This law may make it harder for Italian women to join the workforce based on previous data of how pregnant women in Italy are treated. Italy offers five months of paid maternity leave, but pregnant workers are more at risk to be fired. According to Italy’s national bureau of statistics, about 25% of pregnant workers are illegally fired during or right after their pregnancies.
Italy’s not the first country to propose this
If Italy’s proposal becomes law, then Italy would become the first country in the Western world to offer paid period leave. South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are among the countries that already offer it.
In Japan, it’s part of seirikyuuka, or physiological leave. Japanese women got paid menstrual leave as more of them joined the workforce after World War II, and as one informant put it at the time in “Culture, Society, And Menstruation,” the option became “a symbol for women’s emancipation. It represented their ability to speak openly about their bodies, and to gain social recognition for their role as workers.”
But even in countries that have paid period leave, the legal right becomes a symbol of shame. Some women feel uncomfortable with telling their employer about an everyday but intimate occurrence, and embarrassment turns into shame when certain countries stigmatize it.
In certain Indonesian factories, menstruating workers are “routinely asked” by employers to drop their pants to prove that they’re having their period, so women will forego their legal right to a leave, rather than “submit themselves to humiliation.”
Workers living in countries with paid menstrual leave also face the shame of being considered weak for taking it. In 2013, Russian lawmaker proposed giving Russian women two days off a month for their periods because “the pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance” and because menstruation reduces “work-competence.” After the bill was condemned by feminists for its condescending language, the proposal died. But the lawmaker’s thinking is not unique, and it shows the many risks that menstruating workers face with taking paid period leave.