Spain could become the first European country to allow women to take several days of "menstrual leave" from the workplace each month under new proposed legislation to be outlined next week.
The Spanish government is expected to approve the measure as part of a broader draft bill on reproductive health and abortion rights, details of which are expected to be disclosed on May 17.
The proposed law would introduce at least three sick days each month for women who suffer from severe period pains.
This "medically supervised leave" could even be extended to five days for women with disabling periods who suffer severe cramps, nausea, dizziness and vomiting, Euro News reported.
Menstrual leave is currently offered worldwide only in a few countries, including Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Zambia.
According to the Spanish Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society, around a third of women who menstruate suffer from severe pain, known as dysmenorrhea. Symptoms include acute abdominal pain, diarrhoea, headaches and fever.
A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada estimates that 60 per cent of Canadians who menstruate meet the criteria for severe menstrual pain known as primary dysmenorrhea (PD). In the study, 51 per cent said their activities had been limited by menstrual pain and 17 per cent reported missing school or work, Global News reported.
"When the problem cannot be solved medically, we think it is very sensible that there should be temporary incapacity associated with this issue," Ángela Rodríguez, Spain's Secretary of State for Equality and against Gender Violence, told El Periodico newspaper.
"If someone has an illness with severe symptoms, a temporary disability is granted, so the same should happen with menstruation, allowing a woman with an excruciating period to stay at home," Rodríguez said.
"It is important to clarify what a painful period is, we are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, severe headaches, fever," she added.
Proposal Creates Controversy
This proposal for a period leave is not a done deal and has been causing some controversy in Spain.
The country's left-wing coalition government itself is reportedly divided over the plan. While the far-left Podemos is pushing for it, some Socialists have voiced concern a menstrual leave could backfire against women by discouraging employers from hiring them.
Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of the UGT, a leading Spanish trade union, even warned that the move could "stigmatise women".
"We believe that this issue is complex and is not being adequately addressed," she said, calling for "women to be considered workers with the same rights as men".
In a statement to the press, Economy Minister Nadia Calviño, a Socialist, said that several drafts of the plan were still under discussion.
"Let me repeat it very clearly, this government believes in and is absolutely committed to gender equality. We will never adopt measures that could result in the stigmatisation of women", Calviño said.
Other Benefits Offered
The draft law would also lower VAT on female hygiene products in shops and make period products, including sanitary pads, available for free in schools and educational institutions.
According to El Pais, it would make menstrual health part of Spaniards' right to health, and it specifies that "stereotypes and myths about menstruation that still exist and hinder women's lives will be combated".
Rodríguez claims that one in four women in Spain cannot choose the feminine hygiene products she wants to buy for financial reasons. That is why the government proposes that they can be dispensed free of charge in educational and social centres.
The health bill would also guarantee the right to seek an abortion for free in Spain's public healthcare system and scrap the requirement for 16 and 17-year-olds to obtain parental consent for the procedure.
Opt-out policies for doctors who refuse to practice abortion have made it difficult for some Spanish residents to terminate pregnancies if no providers in their area offer abortions.
The proposed bill would introduce an official register for medical staff who do not want to be involved in terminating a pregnancy.
"The voluntary termination of a pregnancy will be guaranteed in all public hospitals. For that to happen, all centres with obstetrics and gynaecology services will need to have staff who guarantee the right to voluntary termination of a pregnancy. We will carefully respect the right to conscientious objection and make it thoroughly compatible with women's right to decide when it comes to their bodies," Spain's equality minister, Irene Montero said.