Spain became the first Western European country to pass legislation giving access to paid menstrual leave early in February. The push for reform began in the progressive Catalan region, an autonomous community in Spain. Within the city of Girona, conversations about allowing individuals to take paid menstrual leave began popping up; this led to a discussion about the fight for menstrual rights in Spain.

Irene Montero, the Equality Minister, played a massive role in the push for reform. Montero is a part of the “Unidas Podemos” Party. Due to Spain’s multiparty system, the “Unidas Podemos” is an organization composed of 14 different national and regional left-wing political parties.

There were 190 votes in favor of the new menstrual leave legislation, with 154 against it and were deemed abstentions. The close vote led to the decision going to the State level of government.

The new legislation examined the idea of dysmenorrhea, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists define as “Pain associated with menstruation is called dysmenorrhea. More than half of women who menstruate have some pain for 1 to 2 days each month. Usually, the pain is mild. But for some women, the pain is so severe that it keeps them from doing their normal activities for several days a month.”

A dysmenorrhea diagnosis allows individuals to exercise the rights found in the new legislation. Individuals are required to attend monthly doctor visits. Once they feel that a person fits under the dysmenorrhea umbrella, they can be granted paid menstrual leave. The paid leave begins with three-days time, and further investigation could lead to a full five days of paid leave. The change in legislation benefits the Spanish workforce as many of them are individuals who menstruate. According to La Agencia Estatal Boletín Oficial del Estado, 96 percent of Spain’s domestic workers identify as women.

A study conducted by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health found that on average 15-25 percent of individuals who menstruate report experiencing aggressive pain associated with their menstrual cycle. Furthermore, the study reports ten to 15 percent of the surveyed people explained that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Aspirin, do not help alleviate the pain.

This legislative change also brings up the discussion of abortion rights and access to adequate care. NPR reports, “more than 80% of termination procedures in Spain are carried out in private clinics due to a high number of doctors in the public system who refuse to perform them — with many citing religious reasons.” The changes in the law address these issues by allowing abortions in all state run hospitals. Doctors who have registered to not perform abortions will not be required to do so.

NPR further reports the new legislation allows 16 and 17-year-olds access to abortions without parental consent. Additionally, menstruation products will be freely available in schools and prisons. In state-run health clinics, birth control, including hormonal contraceptives and the morning after pill, will also be freely available. Found within the newly formed legislation there is clear intent on improving access to contraceptives for the younger generation in Spain.

There has been political push back following the implementation of these new laws. The popular right-wing party challenged the new abortion law. They were specifically against allowing abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy. However, these claims were rejected by Spain’s constitutional court.

The United States has a lack of attention to menstruation laws. However, a digital media company located in Los Angeles named Chani allows for “Unlimited menstrual leave for people with uteruses.” Similarly, Nuvento Inc, a software company based in the United States, adopted a single day menstrual leave for people with uteruses. Individual companies have taken the responsibility, but federal and local US governments have yet to take action regarding paid menstrual leave.

In 1947, Japan released a law explaining any individual suffering severe period pains cannot be forced to work. Article 68 of the labor law details the specifics of accessing paid leave. The 1928 Tokyo Municipal Bus Company female conductor strikes led to the implementation of Article 68. After World War II, women entering the workforce did not have adequate sanitary products, thus leading to the passing of the law.

In 1948, Indonesia legislatively introduced the notion of menstrual leave. However by 2003, it led to “…female workers experiencing menstrual pain [not being obliged] to work on the first two days of their cycle.” This expressed desire for change, but had some drawbacks. Specifically, the changes to the legislation enacted in 2003 ended up weakening access to menstrual care as a workplace right.

In 1994, Vietnam created a labor code in their legislation that aided in the fight for menstrual leave. Instead of allowing full days off, the law gives 30 minute breaks to those menstruating during that week long cycle. However, in 2020, the code was reformed so workers only have three days of menstrual leave.

In 2012, Korean legislation known as the Labor Standards Act was created. Under article 73, expressions of a “physiologic leave” exist on a monthly basis for female workers. An anecdote of an airline official restricting his female employees from exercising their right to “physiologic leave” was resolved with him facing a fine for $1,790.

In 2019, Zambia produced The Employment Code Act. This legislation brought the discussion of a new approach to paid leave in the workplace. The term used is known as “Mother’s Day.” This is the idea that individuals identifying as women are allowed one day a month for paid leave. They do not need to provide any specific medical documentation for the leave.

In 2021, an Australian based company, Modibod, created a policy for a full ten days of paid menstrual leave, issues relating to menopause, and miscarriage. These days are offered annually versus a monthly basis.

In 2022, Taiwan created legislation known as the Act of Gender Equality in Employment. Specifically, found in Article 14, the act explains individuals who identify as women can request to take one day off with a pay cut of half their normal wage. However, if someone needed more time off they would have to request non paid sick leave.

This discussion on menstrual rights sheds light on the perspective of menstruating people in the workforce. Some argue implementation of this legislation will only further the injustice in present systems by further ingraining the established gender binary. Further investigation into the effects of menstrual rights and legislation is needed to address its efficacy. The dream and goal is to create an equal playing field and of equalizing treatment amongst genders within the workforce. There is a hope for equality but time will tell how the legislation will truly affect menstruating people in
the workforce.

Originally Published 3/9/23