For most American women beyond the age of high school gym class, “I’ve got my period” isn’t considered much of an excuse for anything. We’re meant to pop an Advil and get on with things, Red Devil be damned. But in several, mostly East Asian, countries, so-called “menstrual leave” is a legally enshrined right for female workers.
However, as these countries attempt to move toward greater gender equality in the workplace, menstrual leave has come under debate. Do these policies simply further the notion that women are weak, hormonally-addled creatures controlled by their uteri? Or do they encourage more equality by accommodating female workers’ biological demands, much as maternity leave does?
The issue turns out to be surprisingly complicated, with complex historical roots and supporters on both sides of the liberal-conservative divide.
Japan has had menstrual leave since just after World War II. According to the 1947 Labor Standards Law, any women suffering from painful periods or whose job might exacerbate period pain are allowed seirikyuuka (literally “physiological leave”). At the time the law was written, women were entering the workforce in record numbers, and workplaces like factories, mines and bus stations had little by way of sanitary facilities.