(Bloomberg) -- Spain is poised to become the first European country to grant workers the right to “menstrual leave,” a proposal that’s sharpening political divisions in the country over the push to improve women’s rights.
A draft law presented by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government on Tuesday would allow those suffering from severe period pains to take paid time off each month, under medical supervision. Following cabinet approval the plan, it now goes to parliament and the Senate for approval.
The measure was put forward by Minister of Equality Irene Montero, from Podemos, Sanchez’s far-left junior coalition partner, as part of a drive to promote women’s health. The policy includes a requirement for schools and prisons to offer sanitary pads to people who need them and gives girls aged 16 years and older the right to seek an abortion without parental consent.
“The period is going to stop being a taboo,” Montero said at a press conference after the cabinet meeting. “There will be no more going to work with pain, no more taking pills before arriving at work and having to hide that on those days we are in pain.”
Spain has a robust feminist movement and Sanchez has made women’s rights a priority, saying earlier this year that it was “only through feminism that will we build the best democracies.” About 60% of his cabinet are women, the highest proportion in the country’s history, as well as all three of his deputy premiers.
In the same reform package passed Tuesday, Spain’s government is planning to eliminate the three-day period of reflection required for women before getting an abortion. The draft bill plans to make hormonal contraceptives available free of charge.
Montero had also proposed to exempt sanitary pads and tampons from VAT, but that was questioned by some Socialist female cabinet members and blocked by Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero.
Conservative parties have cried foul. A spokesman for the far-right Vox group which is the third-largest force in parliament, said menstrual leave is “insulting” and abortion rules should not be loosened. Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the regional head of Madrid and a member of the People’s Party, also criticized the plan.
There’s push back elsewhere, too. A representative of UGT, a major trade union, told a local radio station she feared the measure would stigmatize women and do them a disservice.
Outside Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Zambia are among the few countries where menstrual leave exists, though the measure has had mixed results.
The policy’s popularity has declined in Japan since it was first introduced in 1947. Some 26% of women reportedly took the leave in 1965. This year, according to a Nikkei Group survey, just 1.9% of respondents at companies with menstrual leave policies used it “almost every time.” Reasons for their reluctance included not wanting to trouble colleagues and feeling awkward about approaching male bosses.
Last year, the ex-CEO of South Korea Airline was fined $1,800 for denying female staff members the right to menstrual leave.
Research has found that between half and over 90% of women experience pain during periods, with one in three women reporting not being able to perform daily activities as a result.
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