There's been a lot of talk about menstruation in the mainstream media, especially after British company Coexist announced its plans for a "period policy." The specific details haven't been hammered out yet, but Coexist says it's meant to help women who experience severe PMS symptoms, such as painful cramps and migraines, take time off during their periods without judgment. Some argue that policies like this could be seen as special treatment and may end up being harmful to women in the workplace.
Coexist isn't the first company to offer a period policy. Many East Asian countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and South Korea, have government-mandated paid menstrual leave. Robert Berg, M.D., an OB/GYN at NYU Langone, says the way we talk about and treat menstrual symptoms varies among cultures. So while many Americans are taught to take an Advil and carry on, it can be customary for women in other countries to stop working during that time of the month.
Supporters of this policy say it opens the door for conversation about menstruation. "Knowing your workplace is sensitive to your uncontrollable female medical condition will make women more productive and certainly appreciative of their work environment," says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an OB/GYN in Santa Monica, CA. Ross also points out that menstrual symptoms vary widely. For nearly one in five women, the pain is severe, whether it's debilitating cramps, uncontrollable migraine headaches, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (an extreme form of PMS).
These symptoms can interfere with work, social activities, and relationships, says Draion Burch, M.D., an OB/GYN in Pittsburgh, PA. Medical professionals can offer treatments ranging from painkillers to birth control pills, which can help to some extent.
My hope is that period leave will be understood as something that is used to manage physical pain.
Berg says he believes paid menstrual leave is a slippery slope because it's human nature to take advantage of such a policy, whether your symptoms are severe or not. Others who oppose the policy have called it patronizing and believe it reaffirms the stereotype that women are weak and controlled by their hormones.
Naama Bloom, founder and CEO of HelloFlo, a women's health company that helps girls and women through transitional times in their lives, calls the period policy a double-edged sword. "In our culture, women on their period are often treated as though they're psychologically unstable," she writes on Motto. "My hope is that period leave will be understood as something that is used to manage physical pain and that the actions of women who choose to use the leave won't be subjected to heightened criticism."
In an ideal world, anyone—regardless of gender—would be able to leave the office when they are in pain, and those who do suffer from severe menstrual symptoms would be able to openly discuss it with their employer.