Evaluating Menstrual Leave as a Viable Workplace Policy

Marian Baird (University of Sydney Business School), Elizabeth Hill (Political Economy, University of Sydney) and Sydney Colussi (University of Sydney Business School) have published their article Mapping Menstrual Leave Legislation and Policy Historically and Globally: A Labor Entitlement to Reinforce, Remedy, or Revolutionized Gender Equality at Work? 42 Comp. Lab. L. & Pol’y J 187 (2021). Here is an except from the introduction:

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Professor Marian Baird

Women’s participation in the labor market continues to be of interest to governments in most nations, yet it is widely acknowledged that women do not participate on equal terms or with equal outcomes to men. While gender and cultural norms are important determinants of women’s labor market experience, institutional arrangements, and particularly formal labor law, also have a significant influence in shaping women’s work life. Over 2.7 billion women across the world are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. Amongst the 189 economies assessed by the World Bank in 2018, 104 economies were found to have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs, while 59 economies have no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace and, in 18 economies, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

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Professor Elizabeth Hill

While these and other laws remain a critical focus in achieving gender equality at work, and have received  considerable academic and policy attention, menstrual leave and its role as a workplace measure to promote women’s advancements in paid work remains largely unacknowledged and under examined, despite growing interest in the subject, in both academic and public spheres. There are no cross-national global studies of menstrual leave and there is little discussion of its use or implications for workplace gender relations. Available studies primarily focus on the policy’s historical development, including its complex relationship with both pronatalist state agendas and feminist trade union movements.This literature also sheds light on the class implications of menstrual leave, which evidently has the capacity to divide women from men, and each other. Menstrual leave is also rarely addressed in the critical menstrual studies literature, which provides broad analysis on the systemic disconnect between menstruating bodies and public spaces, but seldom engages with menstruation in the workplace, and rarely as a workplace gender equality measure.

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Research Associate Sydney Colussi

It is in this context that we argue it is timely to evaluate menstrual leave legislation and policy and its potential role in improving or undermining women’s equality in paid work. Our analysis focuses on the design, motivation and intent embedded in national labor codes and company menstrual leave policies, and the official discourses used to frame their introduction. This is a necessary first step given the lack of  empirical literature evaluating the impact of menstrual leave on workplace gender equality.

The full article is available on ProQuest, Lexis and Westlaw (institutional subscription required; sorry). It’s worth a read for anyone interested in gender inequality and employment law.

Professor Baird, Professor Hill and Research Associate Sydney Colussi are co-convenors of TheBody@Work Project at the University of Sydney Business School.  That project “reimagines the future of embodied work and investigates how workplaces can make radical strides to offer a truly inclusive and supportive experience for all workers.” (More info here.)

Emily Gold Waldman (Pace) and I take up the topic of menstrual leave in the U.S. context in our forthcoming book, Menstruation Matters: Challenging Law’s Silence on Periods, due out from NYU Press in June 2022. Our conclusion there is that, unless carefully crafted, menstrual leave policies would be subject to constitutional challenge. We also discuss the lack of consensus in the U.S. context about the need for menstrual leave. Ultimately, even if well-drafted policy passes constitutional muster, the details matter. One concern is potential backlash against those who actually take menstrual leave.

I look forward to following this issue and to reading more from Marian Baird, Elizabeth Hill and Sydney Colussi!



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