Spain has paved the way and is now the first EU country to have passed a law that allows for paid menstrual leave entitlement for women suffering from incapacitating periods.
The landmark law was passed on Thursday, 16th February, amongst a wider package of sexual and reproductive rights laws. The law mandates the right to a 3-day (possibly extended to a 5-day) menstrual leave of absence to those women who go through painful period cycles, upon presentation of a medical certificate. It is intended to cover women who suffer symptoms such as severe pain, cramps, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting in every cycle.
While the intention is ostensibly a good one, it begs the question of whether this will facilitate women’s representation at the workplace, or continue to bloat (no pun intended) underlying societal structures that continue to undermine women’s equality, which could lead to more employer discrimination against women.
It is common knowledge, that despite the achievements, albeit isolated, we’ve seen along the years, women remain, first and foremost, child bearers - it is a question that, albeit immoral (and illegal), women are asked at interviewing stage. No man is ever asked that. It remains a culturally inbuilt perception that it is the father, the husband, and the brother who is the foundation, the breadwinner of the family.
What further probing will this ‘new right’ lead to: “You are a potential candidate here at “Equality First Limited”, but first, do you suffer from period pains?”
Statistics continue to show, that the current European labour force participation rate for women remains lower than that of comparable male workers, with Malta having one of the largest gender employment gaps in Europe.
This, therefore, triggers a discussion as to whether a similar law would pose an added hurdle for gender equality and gender equity or whether it will be a step forward, that promotes a just and equitable workplace for all.
Lastly, let us also keep in mind that current sick leave legislation in Malta would clearly cover this type of absence from work – as also voiced by employer organisations. This is more so when considering that once the sick leave entitlement is exhausted, an employee would anyway be entitled to receive a sickness benefit from Social Security up to 156 days per year.
Is therefore this menstrual leave legislation a “disguised” extension to the current sick leave entitlement, only for women? Should it even have a place on the political agenda, or would a company policy, by willing employers, have the same effect without the need for a nationwide intervention – at the risk of further stigmatising the female workforce?
We will keep an eye out for any further developments, as curiosity spikes on whether Malta will choose to follow suit.