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Growing Calls For Menstrual and Menopause Leave in Australia

We’re seeing rising bids for paid menstrual and menopause leave here in Australia with many hoping to bring policies up to scratch with the health needs of those suffering from debilitating symptoms.

A number of Aussie unions are moving to get a paid menstrual and menopause leave policy in place and enshrined in the Fair Work Act. These include the Australian Workers’ Union, the United Workers’ Union, the Transport Workers’ Union, the Australian Workers’ Manufacturing Union and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union. The proposed policies would give employees with painful or debilitating menstrual or menopausal symptoms 12 days of paid leave each year, or 1 day a month. One survey by Circle In and the Victorian Women’s Trust on managing menopause at work revealed that a whopping 83% of people felt their work was badly affected by their menopausal symptoms, with 45% wanting to take time off due to the severity of symptoms. Unfortunately, due to financial struggles, most could not afford to take time off or retire, leaving them to suffer in silence with their symptoms.

Another survey from YouGov around menstruation found that over 90% of Aussie women had gone to work despite severe period pain. One major known cause of debilitating period pain is endometriosis, a disease which affects 1 in 9 women. The condition occurs when tissue, similar to that of the uterus, begins growing outside of the uterus and over other parts in the body. It is characterised by pelvic pain, along with some of the following symptoms:

  • Painful or debilitating periods
  • Cramping for 1 or 2 weeks before and/or after menstruation
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Infertility
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Lower back pain
  • Uncomfortable bowel movements

Over 830, 000 people are living in endometriosis in Australia, with a 6.5-year delay to get a diagnosis, leaving many in agony and without treatment or support – and not to mention, the ongoing stigma of menstruation in our society. This means that, even without debilitating conditions like endometriosis, many people are left to manage menstruation without proper access to essential resources or support, making schools and workplaces especially difficult to navigate. A UK survey found that employees who had to take time off due to severe menstrual symptoms lied about their reason for taking time off, as they felt uncomfortable and unsafe discussing the topic with their employers. Another poll from DPG found that 57% of those who were off sick due to menstrual symptoms gave another reason for their absence. It’s clear to see how pervasive this issue, with around 48% of women in the poll saying they noticed a stigma around menstruation at their workplace, and 30% saying their colleagues didn’t take period pain seriously. 74% of those polled felt they had to hide their period products in the office, with some even noting they’d been on the receiving end of dismissive, rude comments from others at work.

But it’s not just menstrual symptoms that some are struggling with – menopausal symptoms are another stigmatised issue for a large portion of people who are left to hide or feel shame around their condition. Take a look at just some of the wide range of symptoms that affect perimenopausal and menopausal people:

  • Hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Irregular periods
  • Brain fog
  • Anxiety

These symptoms can leave people with stress and shame in the workplace, especially with unsupportive legislation or policies. Around a third of women in one survey revealing their symptoms had negatively affected their social life, and 20% reporting lower confidence levels at work. 

What are other countries doing?

The growing movement for paid leave comes as Spain announces its new legislation around menstrual and menopause leave, making them the first in Europe to make such policies. These policies would allow those with painful periods up to 3 days paid leave each month.

South Korea has menstrual leave policies as well, allowing 1 day of leave each month, with employers at risk of a $5, 500 fine if they deny their employees this right.

In Australia, some companies like Modibodi and Future Super have already implemented their own policies around leave, with Modibodi allowing an accrued 10 days per year of time off for menstrual, menopausal and miscarriage paid leave. But we’ve still got a long way to go until everyone can have access to these policies, with the proposed changes put forth by Aussie unions a first step.

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