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30 June, 2022
Spanish Government approves new sick leave for menstrual cramps
On May 17th, 2022, the Spanish national government passed a law on sexual and reproductive health and voluntary interruption of pregnancy where it once again underlines women as a group that deserves special protection and includes a series of measures relating to menstrual health. Among these measures we find a decrease in taxes on feminine hygiene articles or free distribution of these products among people with lower incomes. However, the most picturesque idea is the one referring to the "right to temporary sick leave due to medical conditions arising from crippling periods": a menstrual leave from day one paid by the INSS (Spanish Social Security) , not requiring a minimum contribution period, unlike the rest of temporary leaves, and "which will be for the days that each woman, according to her medical condition, needs".
The (brief) text describing the new regulation recognizes that these disabilities with associated sick leave, already in fact occur but it justifies the measure as a way to make visible and de-stigmatize an inherently feminine problem. Is a specific law really necessary for a problem that already has a solution and a fair treatment? The initiative comes from the Ministry of Equality, although it is Health who manages the 6000 annual sick leaves regarding menstrual pain. No social alarm supporting this decision is happening, but it clearly represents a new comparative grievance where women lose more than they gain.
The gender gap is tough to solve by granting privileges, especially when installing the idea in society that women are inferior, vulnerable or weak, because they suffer the consequences of a natural biological process which, as mentioned, is already covered by the health system.
The new law is an attack on the waterline of effective equality between sexes. Laws are not only rules that citizens must comply with, they are also an exercise in political communication. The message sent to companies in Spain is that they will have to assume a very high cost in terms of productivity if they hire women. Businesspeople (women among others) could be calculating as follows: if the leave lasts at least 3 days (although can go as long as 7), they must assume that by the end of the year, women could easily enjoy one more month vacation than men.
Gina Aran, collaborating Economics and Business professor at the UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) and an expert in human resources, warns that "unfortunately, this ad hoc leave could generate more discrimination for women, singled out under the label 'she's on her period' and create more obstacles in terms of their hiring. Although it is a measure that recognizes women's pain, on the other hand it encourages gender discrimination in hiring and reinforces false stereotypes".
It is in this point of "recognizing female pain" where those who defend the regulation are justified, as well as in the coverage of very specific profiles of women who suffer from dysmenorrhea or abdominal tension, with a large number of temporary sick leaves throughout their working lives (it is estimated in around 1500 days in the case of dysmenorrhea) and this, ultimately, could lead to a fair dismissal.
In addition to the probable legal frauds, the selection processes will become even more challenging. For decades we have been struggling against the prejudice that singled out women due to the possibility of pregnancy, and now a Ministry is giving wings to a new obstacle, through a measure that looks more like propaganda than a popular outcry.
Very few countries in the world contemplate similar permits. If it’s passed, we could say that Spain would be the first Western country to implement this heading in a law. Asia is where most nations have implemented laws covering menstrual leave, its pioneers being Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, as the first to apply it. Outside Asia, Zambia and Mexico are considering similar rules. In Europe, Italy rejected this leave in 2017 and Portugal has just followed suit.
It doesn’t look like the new leaves contribute much to the defense of any right or respond to a real need. Certain administrations such as those of Castellón or Girona have approved menstrual leaves, for hours or days, and almost nobody has used them.
I often tell a significant experience that happened to me with an employee. For months she was absent from work on Mondays and Tuesdays, one week a month. When I asked how it was possible that she always missed the same days each month, I was told that she was absent because of her period, and since she was taking the pill, her absences were regular. The reader should know that the contraceptive pill cycle can be controlled by lengthening or shortening it according to the woman's desire, so this employee could have chosen to miss the weekend. I find it very unfair that someone is able to take advantage of a situation that many other women cannot control and sometimes causes real problems.
Feminism needs laws that know how to place a country's priorities in plain black and white, that value sacrifice and defend real equality, where women are not treated with paternalism. This permit is harmful and unnecessary and it would be much better if government invested its time in matters of interest that do not harm women professionally.