One of my favourite statements on the internet is “Workplaces were not built with women’s bodies in mind”. I cannot remember where exactly I first saw it but I know that each time incidences of lack of adequate maternity care come up, that statement rings in my mind.
I also think of that statement whenever offices don’t have sanitary care products in their restrooms and places where working mums can breastfeed.
The modern workplace was truly not built with women’s bodies in mind and for women who are not mothers, this shows up when they are expected to perform optimally even when experiencing debilitating pain and cramps. Women who cannot perform and come to work are often made to feel less than and even in an era of remote working, women still face sneers and insults for demanding that offices have menstrual leave.
That is why I was overjoyed when I learnt that Spain has approved menstrual leave for women. It is the first law for menstrual leave in Europe and allows for three days away from work; in extreme cases of pain it allows for five days away from the office.
What Spain has done is exemplary in the sense that it has set a precedent that women’s biology should be taken into account in the modern workplace. This is such that in addition to maternity leave, there should also be menstrual leaves for women.
The importance of menstrual leaves and the provision of sanitary care in the office cannot be underestimated. If women are aware that we won’t be given respite from work when our bodies need it, it sends a message to us that we either put our bodies through stress or stand a chance of losing our source of livelihood.
In the example of sanitary care, offices should endeavour to put pads and tampons in the restrooms the same way tissue papers and hand wash liquid is kept for people to use after pooping.
No one says that people in the office must bring their personal tissues when coming and it is rather seen as the responsibility of those who take care of the restroom to provide such.
So why doesn’t this apply to women and period care?
To better understand why menstrual leaves are important in the workplace, I asked some women to give their opinions.
Speaking with Aanu, a human resources personnel, she explained how she fought for period care resources in her workplace.
In her words: “HR manager here, when I got to my present place of employment I noticed we had more women than men and there was almost no provision for menstruation ( menstral leave, first aid boxes, pads or even allowances).
So I raised it during a board meeting and they kicked it off the table (after few minutes), I decided to keep trying and putting pressure on the fact that we need relief aids for our female workers.”
She went on to say: “After about 5 months of me yelling during board meetings and submitting requests, they approved menstrual aid boxes for each department; they also approved period care package (monetary allowance) for all female staff.
My biggest challenge as the initiator was that the men came at me claiming it was gender favoritism and the men deserved something similar too. I didn’t even respond.
I believe organizations should embrace this considering length of work, discomfort amongst other menstrual challenges women face.”
For Ololade, an academic and researcher, while she agrees that menstrual packages in offices should be a thing, she believes that it should not be another way of pushing women out of the workplace.
To quote her: “It’s a shame that women have to pay for period care. I’m just worried that in the long run, menstrual leave will further marginalize women in the workplace. We already have instances where maternity leave has affected hiring quota and promotions.
I feel this has to be holistic. Just as menstrual leaves become a thing, there have to be policies in place to ensure accountability and true diverse hiring from these companies. Because patriarchy moves mad.”
When I asked Tari why menstrual leave is a needed policy in workplaces, she said that it’s because of her own experience facing bad menstrual cramps in the office. To her, all women cannot be on their periods at the same time, so there would still be workers in the office. She went further to say that women who have menstrual cramps cannot perform optimally.
For Kendra, a women’s health educator, she says that the provision of menstrual care packages in the office makes women feel cared for.
In her words: “I’ve not ever been in a [bad] workplace situation regarding menstruation.
But menstrual care and menstrual leave is necessary.
Why? Because women cannot perform adequately during their menstrual phase.
Time away from work would allow a woman rejuvenate and care for herself.”
Kendra ended by saying: “You don’t want a woman with cramps, headaches and possible suicidal thoughts to work.
Seeing menstrual care products in restrooms allow women to feel among and cared for.
With the stigma around menstruation little things like things really make us feel comfortable.”
More workplaces should endeavour to create avenues that would dispute the saying that modern workplaces were not created with women’s bodies in mind.
If that is not done, we as a society will continue to lose out on the talents of women seeing as they are shut out of workplaces.
Angel Nduka-Nwosu is a writer, journalist and editor. She moonlights occasionally as a podcaster on As Angel Was Sayin’. Catch her on all socials @asangelwassayin.