Like many millions of women in the UK, I have experienced menstrual cramps at work. Struggling to stand up, to talk to people, to not burst into fits of tears. However, hearing about the possible workplace reforms for period leave, did not make me feel as happy as the women in the sanitary towel adverts.
Period leave was introduced in Japan in the mid- 20th century and is also in place in other countries including Indonesia, Zambia, Taiwan and South Korea. Nike has included menstrual leave in their code of conduct since 2007. Who wants that HR task? My initial concerns about these reforms was not whether they reflected an advancement or a regression of women’s rights, but why the question has not been how do we reduce the amount women are experiencing premenstrual syndrome symptoms including cramps, acne, migraines and fatigue?
I always remember my herbal clinic supervisor (albeit a man - hiss) saying that it is not OK for women to experience pain during their periods. And it is not OK. We have resigned ourselves to the idea that once a month, mother nature will visit us and we will be left in a cramping, crying, chocolate-craving heap. (I don’t actually mind the chocolate bit). Our cycles are not a death sentence and cramps and other symptoms is often our bodies way of telling us that we need more balance - whether it is more movement, changes to our diet, increased fluid intake or structural imbalances. Our menstrual cycle does cause physiological changes and we do have to be mindful about how we use our body and our energy at this time but it does not mean that we have to be debilitated.
It was when I started to identify triggers in my lifestyle and my diet, experience different complementary therapies and really listen to my body that I was able to reduce PMS symptoms (except for the chocolate because that is a necessity). It is also meant that I could understand and anticipate what was happening in my body and feel empowered.
If companies can afford to pay staff for “period leave” then they can afford to implement programmes where women can see complementary therapists or nutritional therapists and explore different tools that may help to reduce their PMS. This would also mean that issues such as fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, which can often be mistaken for heavy periods, can be identified and treated earlier.
This is bigger than periods. That’s right, I said it. It is about how we care for each other - women or men. At any time of the month, we may need time where we need to slow down because things are challenging or overwhelming. Rather than casting people out of society for two or three days a month so that we don’t have to see their pain or breakdown, it is the employer’s role to provide the tools to help them find their way back to health.