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Spain: We’re going to give women three days off a month for their period

Should women get time off work to deal with the pain and discomfort that comes from menstruation? The Spanish Government says yes, very much so:

Women who suffer from severe period pain will be allowed to take leave from work for up to three days each month under a reform plan due to be approved by Spain’s government next week.

The draft reform, revealed by the Cadena Ser radio station, will make Spain the first Western country to offer the right to menstrual leave, under which women would be guaranteed time off during their periods.

According to the Spanish Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society, around one-third of women who menstruate suffer from severe pain known as dysmenorrhea, with that proportion rising if pre-menstrual pain is also counted. Dysmenorrhea symptoms include acute abdominal pain, headaches, diarrhoea and fever.

Obviously, this is one of those stories that’s difficult to write about as a bloke: We, thankfully, don’t get periods. And our own debilitating instance of suffering – the common cold – only comes around about twice a year. It doesn’t take world class empathy, though, to imagine that bleeding for one week out of every four might be a painful, stressful, and downright unpleasant experience – or that it might impair a person’s ability to work or be fully functional. There certainly aren’t many male bosses left, one would hope, who would dismiss out of hand the idea that his female employee might not be able to come into work if she has severe cramps.

At the same time… a statutory right to time off?

The problem here, to be hard nosed about it, is that this is a case of a law designed to help women which may end up hurting them. After all, it means that in almost every case, out of two equally qualified people, one man and one woman, the man will give you, as an employer, 36 more working days every year. For the same pay. That’s more than a month. It means that a year’s salary for the man gets you a year in the office, and a year’s salary for the woman gets you… eleven months.

Now women will point out – not unfairly – that this isn’t their fault. They didn’t ask to be the child-bearing gender, or bear the pain of the menstrual cycle. And of course, in state funded jobs where the employer isn’t worried about the bottom line, there’s no reason why managers should worry about taking this into account. For the civil service, teaching, nursing, and so on, it doesn’t matter to management if they have to call in a temp for a few days every month, since the taxpayer is picking up the tab anyway.

But in the private sector, where employers are spending their own money? You’d have to be a fool to think that the expected productivity of an employee would not be a factor in hiring decisions. And women are already at a disadvantage there, in terms of maternity leave, and so on.

None of this, of course, is fair. And perhaps, that’s why it outrages people so much, because in a fair world your physiology – which you cannot control – would not limit your opportunities. It is not fair that a woman should have to suffer debilitating pain for days or more than a week every month.

But it’s also just not a problem that politicians can fix. You cannot legislate away biological reality. And when you try to do it, you risk unforeseen consequences. So, this policy does not strike me as in any way wise. Hopefully though, I’m wrong.

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