Leave with pay and understanding
Last week, Gabriela filed a bill proposing paid menstrual leave, prompting a tweet from former senator Panfilo Lacson: “Maternity leave, paternity leave, and now, menstrual leave—all with pay.
Next time, a legislative measure will be filed mandating menopause and andropause allowances to increase the testosterone levels of workers.”
Internet users called him ignorant and unsympathetic. Lacson clarified his statement, saying that the bill could hurt companies’ bottom line.
His concerns have been echoed by menstrual leave opponents around the world, who are worried that companies might no longer hire women.
Such paid leave packages for self/family care, however, are becoming the norm. In the US, more companies are offering paternity leave and longer maternity leave. Research shows that without such packages, women are less likely to enter the workforce. In states such as California and New Jersey, which now have more flexible family care leave packages, women stay employed, feel cared for, and are productive.
But what about the employers? Research on employers in both states, plus Indonesia and Vietnam, shows that family leave care packages lead to lower employee turnover, with minimal impact on business, and not a single case of abuse of the privilege by employees.
The main message: If companies want to hire and retain top talent, they have to first show that they can treat people with both care and respect.
Menstrual pain is different for different women; but where it occurs, it is crippling. Menstruation, however, has also been used to accuse women of being weak, wildly emotional, warmongering, enslaved to their hormones. A law that frames menstruation as a condition requiring leave might exacerbate gender discrimination in our workplaces, where the prevailing culture has long crucified women for not adhering to invisible “male standards.”
Men are the default body, whether in designing cellphones, seatbelts for cars, or medication. One often unquestioned standard: Soldier on, even while in pain.
But this begs the question: When men “soldier on,” did they really contribute to workplace productivity, or were they simply feeding a culture of “presenteeism” (being there for the sake of showing up)?
Is ignoring pain really a sign of strength? Or is it lying to oneself, for the sake of vanity? If it’s simply to display some pathetic form of “manliness,” then it’s inspirational only to drug companies wanting to make money off the illnesses of an overworked labor force.
Paid menstrual leave is already mandated in countries such as Spain, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Zambia. Zomato, based in India, has many women employees who enjoy paid menstrual leave. The owner claims that it has helped build a culture of transparency: Women are confident that they can be themselves, and they tend to stay longer.
Some popular articles speculate that such workplace practices might make men feel that they are being discriminated against. A survey in India showed that about a quarter of women were indeed concerned that men would feel discriminated; surprisingly, only 4 percent of men felt that there was any discrimination intended by menstrual leave laws.
What was upsetting about Lacson’s tweet is the culture that it represents. It is not so much machismo, as it is a culture of unfounded expectations. It is a culture where people are templated into a character into which they must slot themselves because to veer away from that character would lead to a speculated slippery slope of tragedy that no one has any data to back up.
This culture has been in the news for ages: fans bashing Liza Soberano for not meeting their expectations of an actress who caters to their whims; government offices not allowing married women to keep their maiden names even when the law has already explicitly allowed it for decades; scientists lambasted by local officials because their declaration of the extent of Mindoro’s oil spill damage led to tour cancellations.
We are a sad society that concocts story trajectories for stereotyped, expected, but uninformed identities.
We are a doomed society if we suspect employees of imagined abuses while refusing to create a structure where employees can grow, prosper, and be rewarded for being themselves.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.