‘Any person’s pain needs to be recognized’: Canadian advocates look at menstrual sick leave

Spain may soon become the first country in Europe to offer menstrual leave for those who suffer painful period cramps. Monika Gul reports it’s prompting some to call on Canada to follow suite, arguing it would further menstrual equity.

By Andrew Cowie and Monika Gul

As Spain heads towards offering three-day menstrual leave, advocates in Canada want to advance the discussion about menstrual leave and the stigma of periods.

Dr. Jerilynn Prior, UBC professor and director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research, said the move by Spain was exactly what women require.

“I think it’s excellent that Spain in this proposed bill is listening to what women need. That’s what’s fundamental for any society to be equitable,” said Prior. “I think any person’s pain needs to be recognized. And those in the workplace, whose pain is interfering with their ability to work, should be able to have paid sick leave.”

Prior said that she had some concern that women getting leave for periods could be unpopular in some sections of the population.

“In today’s rather polarized climate that is likely to get a backlash from men. And I don’t want to see that happen.”

Currently, there are already some companies in Canada that do offer menstrual leave.

Carinne Chambers-Saini, founder and CEO of Diva, said her company implemented their policy in October 2021, giving employees up to 12 paid days off per year, up to one day per month.

“This policy was really important for us. My personal mission and the mission of Diva is to destigmatize periods, and create equity for those who menstruate,” said Chambers-Saini.

Chambers-Saini explained that despite the extra days off, they have not seen any drop in work productiveness.

“Over the last seven months … it has not affected their productivity and if anything has increased their productivity.

“We want to continue to normalize that conversation and make our employees and our team members really comfortable and normalize that right across the country.”

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Zeba Khan, founder and director with Free Periods Canada, says Canada is in a good position to be the first country in North America to offer menstrual leave.

“I think Canada is very well-positioned to be the first North American country to … advocate or also pass a similar law with a lot of the work that’s going … in making menstrual supplies accessible,” said Khan.

Khan suggested the stigma about periods has hindered dialogue about menstrual leave and questioned why it wouldn’t be part of normal sick leave.

“Why does it have to be labeled as a menstrual health leave, it could just be part of regular leave,” said Khan. “It comes back to the stigma of mensuration.”

Khan said the stigmatization of periods and the lack of dialogue led to her believing her experience was different from what other women face.

“I didn’t see anyone else doing it around me so I thought I was the only one who needed to take a day off,” said Khan. “There was this guilt and shame around it. And internally, I kind of felt almost weak that I couldn’t do it.”

“I think it’s important because it almost challenges the normalization of period pain and it almost challenges the stigma of talking about menstrual health,” said Khan.

While the government currently has no public plan for menstrual sick leave, the move by Spain was applauded by Jenna Sudds, parliamentary secretary to the minister for women and gender equality and youth.

“Any country that takes concrete steps toward gender equality should be celebrated,” said Sudds.

Sudds said that they are focusing on improving access to menstrual products, saying that barrier is a huge problem for many women.

“Supporting people that menstruate is long overdue and is part of our government’s plan to build a more equitable Canada.”

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