Spain paid menstrual leave: plan to give leave for painful periods explained - and could Britain do the same?

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Only a small number of countries currently offer menstrual leave, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Zambia and Indonesia

The Spanish government recently announced it was planning to introduce paid leave for women who suffer from severe period pain.

The new law would give women three days of leave a month - extended to five in some circumstances.

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Irene Montero, Spain’s equality minister, said on Twitter: "We will recognise in the law the right to leave for women who have painful periods that will be financed by the state.”

Ms Montero added it would no longer be "normal to go to work in pain" and said the move would "end the stigma, shame and silence around periods".

But could a similar scheme be introduced in the UK - and would it be beneficial?

NationalWorld spoke to several experts to find out whether Britain could follow Spain’s lead.

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Only a small number of countries currently offer menstrual leave, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Zambia and IndonesiaOnly a small number of countries currently offer menstrual leave, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Zambia and Indonesia
Only a small number of countries currently offer menstrual leave, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Zambia and Indonesia | Kim Mogg/National World

Should Britain introduce paid menstrual leave?

Emma Cox, Endometriosis UK chief executive, said it is positive to see menstrual wellbeing being discussed at government level in Spain.

She added that the “historic squeamishness and silence around menstrual health” should be challenged and more open conversations on this issue need to take place.

Ms Cox said: "Anyone experiencing pain which means they need to be absent from work should expect to be listened to, believed, and receive support which is appropriate to the type and severity of symptoms they experience.

“This would be the case with any other condition, so why do employers and the Government often fail to treat endometriosis and menstrual health conditions in the same way?”

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However, she said that although potential measures for time off work due to periods is “well-meaning”, a blanket policy “risks downplaying the seriousness of symptoms” that some of those with menstrual conditions may experience.

“Rather than generic menstrual leave, we want endometriosis recognised for the chronic condition it is, deserving of the same support as any other illness,” Ms Cox said.

Recent research commissioned by women’s health company Hertility found that 53% of women feel that female health issues are not taken seriously in the workplace.

Deirdre O’Neill, co-founder of Hertility, said it is time that employers start to take women’s reproductive health “more seriously”.

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She said: “For decades, periods have been treated as something that women need to be discreet about, and this is especially true in the workplace.

“But cramping from period pain can be utterly debilitating and women should be able to have time off to heal without feeling embarrassed or ashamed about it.”

Employers need to “take action to open up the conversation around female health so women stop suffering in silence,” Ms O’Neill added.

Hormone expert Dr Martin Kinsella said that time off work due to period pain would be a “step in the right direction”.

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However, he added that there is “still a great deal of work to be done” in making people aware of the hormone changes that occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle.

He said people need to know the “huge impact” these changes can have, the symptoms of which “can go far beyond pain and can significantly affect mental health and wellbeing”.

Dr Kinsella added that in addition to the pains that many women experience during their period, changes in hormone levels - in particular the drop in oestrogen and progesterone that occur after ovulation - can “affect a woman’s moods significantly”.

He said hormones are involved in a lot of essential processes and “an extremely significant and complex journey of hormone changes take place during a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle”.

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Would a similar policy in the UK be beneficial?

In 2021, period underwear company Modibodi decided to introduce a menstruation, menopause and miscarriage policy.

Kristy Chong, Modibodi chief executive, said she has always wanted to “make life easier for women and help reduce the stigma and taboo around menstruation”.

She said that was one of the reasons she decided to set up the company in the first place.

The company’s policies entitle all of their employees to paid leave for menstruation, menopause and miscarriage, in addition to the firm’s existing sick leave entitlements.

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Modibodi employees accrue an additional 10 days paid personal leave per year for menstruation, menopause discomfort or in the event of a miscarriage.

These paid leave days are not taken from sick leave, but specifically designed to be used by staff suffering menstrual or menopause symptoms which interfere with their ability to work, or in the event they suffer a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

Staff are also allowed to request to work from home if needed during their period.

Ms Chong said these policies were introduced as part of the company’s commitment to “talk openly and honestly about periods, to normalise conversations about menstruation and to remove any stigma and shame associated with a normal, natural part of life”.

NationalWorld contacted the Department of Health to see what the Government’s stance was on introducing paid menstrual leave - but they had not replied by the time of publication.

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