Paid Period Leave May Soon Be a Thing in Italy

Picture of girl lying suffering from menstrual cramps
Italy may be the first Western nation to implement a period policy. (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

It’s not uncommon for women with debilitating menstrual cramps to use a sick day every now and then so they can suffer at home instead of doubled over the computer at the office. After all, how productive can you be when you’re in severe pain?

This is why South Korea, Indonesia, Zambia and Japan have implemented “period policies” — paid days off for women during that time of the month — and now Italy may be the first Western nation to make “menstrual leave” the law.

Currently under debate in the country’s parliament, the proposed bill would require companies to allow “menstrual leave” by offering three paid days off every month to women in the workforce with painful periods, the Washington Post reported this week.

While supporters say the bill is a positive step for working women, the bill is controversial. The Independent cites that Marie Claire Italy hailed the bill as a “standard-bearer of progress and social sustainability.” But Italy already has a very low rate of female participation in the workforce — only 61 percent of Italian women work, compared to 71 percent of American women. And many maintain that making period leave the law will do more harm than good.

Lorenza Pleuteri wrote in the magazine Donna Moderna that the plan could backfire on women, as “employers could become even more oriented to hire men rather than women.” Miriam Goi added on Vice Italy that the law could also “end up reinforcing stereotypes about women being more emotional during their periods.”

Despite the controversy, companies like Nike in the U.S. and U.K.-based Coexist have implemented similar practices. “As a manager of staff, I have seen women really suffer with their periods, and I have found them doubled over in a lot of pain,” Bex Baxter, a director at Coexist, told the Independent. “They feel guilty and ashamed for taking time off and often sit at their desks in silence not wanting to acknowledge it.”

Not only does Baxter believe that it is good for women to practice self-care during menstruation, but that it would ultimately lead to a boost in productivity. “This is not about employees taking more time off, but working more flexibly and efficiently around their menstrual cycle and encouraging a work-life balance,” she explained in the Independent.

There have been a slew of studies backing up the claim that period pain is a serious issue. A March 2014 article in American Family Physician claimed 90-percent of women experience menstrual cramps, and, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 50-percent or more of menstruating women experience pain with their period.

An additional 2012 study determined 20 percent of women experience such bad pain with their periods that it interferes with daily activities. The most common treatment is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, but some women opt for stronger prescription NSAIDs.

The bottom line? While paid menstrual leave may be helpful for those who suffer from period pain, the long-term social cost for women could, unfortunately, outweigh the benefits.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you suffer from debilitating period pain? Is paid menstrual leave a good thing? Do you think it will — or should — ever become a broader policy in the United States?

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