20 percent of all women say that menstrual pain affects their daily lives. Photo: Holly Lay, Flickr

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Maternity leave - a way forward or a step back

One day off on the first day of menstruation has recently been introduced by the company Culture Machine in India. The introduction has aroused debate in the media and some see it as something that will weaken the position of women in society.

In July last year, the Indian company Culture Machine decided to offer women a day's paid leave on the first day of menstruation. The introduction of leave has led to discussions in the media and many write that this type of leave will lead to women gaining a more vulnerable position in the labor market as it will be more cost-effective to employ men. Maternity leave in various forms has long existed in some countries such as Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan, although it has not been used. One explanation for its non-use may be that women

are afraid of appearing weak if they take advantage of it. This type of leave has also been introduced in Europe. In 2016, the British company Coexist introduced leave for women who experience pain during menstruation and Italy has recently introduced three days of menstrual leave for women with severe pain during menstruation.

Gerda Larsson who works at the funding collective The Case for Her with women's and girls' health is critical of this type of leave.

- To begin with, the word leave itself is problematic. It signals that you would be on holiday rather than that you suffer from such pain that you can not participate in the work. Also in English it is called menstrual leave, it sounds like you are at home and have a holiday for a few days.

Larsson believes that menstrual leave can be another thing that holds women back, but she also emphasizes that it is good to raise the issue and thus get rid of the stigma that exists around menstruation. She believes that the focus should instead be on making the workplace more flexible and making it easier to talk about menstruation.

- You should be able to work again in time afterwards or being offered the opportunity to work from home can be a first step. We can look at how we have designed the workplaces. Is there a rest room? What does it look like where you change your products, are there sinks inside the toilet? We need workplaces where you can talk about menstruation and that you feel bad during menstruation without stigmatizing that person. Menstruation in itself is not a disease and we must not begin to describe it that way, however, we must ensure that menstruators with different types of pain and discomfort have access to the care they need, says Larsson.

According to Devleena S Majumder, HR Manager at Culture Machine, said the introduction of menstrual leave has been much appreciated by both men and women in the workplace.

- Women are reluctant to use their regular vacation days during menstruation, but if they go to work and feel unwell, they can not be as productive. Introducing "First Day of Period Leave" is our attempt to get rid of taboos around menstruation and instead let the subject become part of everyday life. It remains to be seen whether maternity leave will be a major phenomenon in the future or whether it will stop at a few companies and countries. Regardless, the introduction of menstrual leave has raised a stigmatized topic and the discussion will hopefully lead to a society more adapted to women's needs.

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