Italy's proposed "menstrual leave" policy could be a win for the patriarchy in disguise


Italy, a country that ranks "very low" on the gender equality index, is currently weighing a menstrual-leave policy for working women suffering from excessively painful periods. 

The bill, drafted by four women, was introduced to Italian parliament March 13, and according to the Washington Post, it's dividing media opinion.

Allowing menstruating women three days of paid leave was celebrated in Marie Claire's Italian edition as "a standard bearer of progress and social sustainability," according to the Post's translation. 

Instituting the policy would require doctors' input: According to Marie Claire, women would need medical certification confirming dysmenorrhea — the painful symptoms that often accompany a period, melodramatically described by Marie Claire (and translated by Google) as "a thousand torments."

Dysmenorrhea, which occurs about two days before a period and typically after PMS, often means cramping so severe it leads to nausea and/or vomiting. It can result in diarrhea, general fatigue, headache and body pain. An estimated 60% to 90% of Italian women suffer dysmenorrhea.

Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/

Nothing about dysmenorrhea is particularly fun, but it is a fact of life for many women, who typically just go about their business as usual. A law that lets women take time off to weather the uterine storm could possibly paint menstruating women as weak — a sort of modern version of the red tent concept. Vice Italy argued the bill "could end up reinforcing stereotypes concerning women and their emotional and hormonal condition" during that time of the month, while also pointing out that the country still deploys some pretty shady firing practices when it comes to women.

As the Post reported, Italy's parental-leave policy is generous: Both men and women receive a standard five months of paid time off. But despite being mandatory, companies often find a way to withhold parental leave. Many Italian women have reported receiving dimissioni in binacoor undated resignation letters, upon announcing their pregnancy. Nearly a quarter of working Italian women were laid off in 2010 because they got pregnant. 

The worry with menstrual leave, according to the Post, is that it represents another justification for Italian employers to turn down women applicants. 

Certain companies worldwide and a handful of countries, including Zambia, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea, have adopted menstrual-leave policy — and many women do suffer from dysmenorrhea to a debilitating degree. But as Vice Italy proposed, the solution to giving these women the time off they need might be as simple as offering an extra day of paid sick leave every month, for everyone, regardless of gender. Or, as Guardian writer Abi Wilkinson has suggested, a monthly "pay gap day" to be given to women until they're paid at the same level as men.