Menstruation, also known as period, is a natural process that occurs in the reproductive system of females.
It is a monthly discharge of blood and tissue from the uterus through the vagina, which typically begins during puberty and continues until menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years.
Experts described the menstrual cycle as a hormonal process that prepares the female body for pregnancy each month. It involves the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries (ovulation) and the thickening of the uterine lining in preparation for a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the uterine lining is shed through the vagina, resulting in menstrual bleeding.
The average menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days, but it can vary from person to person; while the bleeding usually lasts for about three to seven days, although this duration can also vary.
During menstruation, some women may experience physical and emotional symptoms known as Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), which include mood swings, bloating, breast tenderness, and cramps.
Menstruation can be uncomfortable and painful, and it can affect a woman’s ability to work effectively
The physical and emotional toll of menstruation on a woman’s health cannot be ignored.
A survey conducted by the Kenya-based African Population and Health Research Centre revealed that approximately 88 percent of women in Africa experience menstrual pain, which can negatively impact their daily lives and productivity.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says period pain, or dysmenorrhea, is common as more than half of menstruating women, globally, experience pain for one or two days every month. For some, the pain is so severe that they are unable to perform normal activities for several days.
Also, a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health reports that approximately 20 percent of working women in Africa experience moderate-to-severe menstrual symptoms, leading to decreased productivity.
Menstrual day-off or leave?
Following these research results, some working-class women in Nigeria have called for menstrual day-off or leave to allow women who suffer pain or cramps manage their symptoms effectively, thereby reduce stress and enhance their overall health.
They maintained that implementing menstrual leave policies can address this issue by allowing women to take time off to rest, recover, and return to their responsibilities with improved focus and energy; adding that it will also enhance women’s productivity and positive outcomes for organizations and the economy at large.
implementing menstrual leave in Nigeria might be challenging because there are still issues with gender equality and cultural beliefs around periods
A menstrual health educator and advocate/founder of Bambini Africa, Raquel Kasham Daniel, opined that allowing women take time off during menstruation could be helpful.
She said, “I have personal experiences that make me feel strongly about menstrual leave. Menstruation can be uncomfortable and painful, and it can affect a woman’s ability to work effectively. Having the option of taking time off during our periods would be really helpful.
“However, implementing menstrual leave in Nigeria might be challenging because there are still issues with gender equality and cultural beliefs around periods.
“People may not understand or accept the idea easily. To make it happen, we will need to intensify our education and awareness to people and change the way society thinks about menstruation.
“We will also need to address concerns about abuse and extra costs for employers.”
According to her, menstrual leave should be seen as a compassionate idea that recognizes women’s unique needs, saying, it will make work better for women in Nigeria and promote fairness.
“Making it work will take time and effort, but with conversations, awareness, and changes in policies, we can make it a reality,” she expressed.
To Mrs. Asa Elizabeth, a banker, menstrual cramp/pain reduces productivity at work and giving women a two-day off is not out of place.
menstrual leave should be seen as a compassionate idea that recognizes women’s unique needs
She suggested that women who experience menstrual pain should, at the point of recruitment, be identified and granted leave. She stressed the need for collaborative efforts between policymakers, employers, and employees in developing fair and effective menstrual leave policies.
A corps member, Ebube Madu, narrated her experience, saying, “Having your period come or knowing it’s close is one thing I personally don’t like and I ask why we even have to experience periods as ladies.
“I usually have really bad and terrible cramps, very ugly experience. I usually end up with diarrhoea and serious waist pain during my period. Most of the times, I end up at the hospital, taking injections before I can be fine. Doctor told me it’s because I have ulcer, so it triggers it and makes it so bad.
“It’s unfortunate that some employers don’t know what some of their female employees go through when they are on their periods. Back then in school, there were days I didn’t go to class. It was really bad that after my hospital visit, I went straight back to the hostel because I usually feel very weak.”
Bola Edwards said of menstrual day-off, “I really don’t think it needs to be given another category but it can stay right under the sick leave category.”
It’s unfortunate that some employers don’t know what some of their female employees go through when they are on their periods
Also, Mrs. Omoboriowo, a media practitioner, expressed doubt over the possibility of Nigerian government considering menstrual leave for women. “I doubt if menstrual leave can be implemented in Nigeria because it has become part of the female folk and it is seen as normal.”
A Public Health Physician in Lagos, Dr. Ogunyemi Riyike, in her own opinion, said that inasmuch as menstruation is not a disease but a physiological process, a woman who feels unwell because of her flow should be able to exercise a right to take time off work, having gone through the due process stipulated at her workplace for sick leave.
She, however, expressed reservations over the idea of having a special menstrual day-off aside the normal sick leave.
The founder of Maria-Grace Foundation, Mrs. Bukola Akande, opined that instead of taking menstrual day-off outright, women who experience painful menstruation can be allowed to work remotely. This, she said, will keep the work going while employers will not have to suffer; especially organisations where women form the larger percentage of the workforce.
menstruation is not a disease but a physiological process. a woman who feels unwell because of her flow should be able to exercise a right to take time off work, through the due process stipulated for sick leave
Critics of menstrual leave have, however, raised concerns about potential misuse or the burden it may place on organizations; but evidence from countries that have already implemented menstrual leave policies showcases positive outcomes and effective solutions.
Countries with menstrual leave policy
Menstrual leave, known as ‘seirikyuuka’ or ‘seiri-kyūka,’ has been available since 1947 in Japan, the second country in the world to do so. It allows women to take time off work when they experience severe menstrual pain or discomfort.
In South Korea, menstrual leave, referred to as ‘gyeonjeon jinyeonyeongchal’ or ‘monthly paid leave’, is available for female employees who experience severe menstrual pain or other related conditions.
Also in Taiwan, menstrual leave, called ‘taitian’ or ‘menstrual leave,’ allows female employees to take up to three days of paid leave per year for menstrual-related symptoms.
In Indonesia, under the Manpower Act, female employees are entitled to two days of menstrual leave per month if they experience severe pain or discomfort.
Zambia provides female employees with one day of menstrual leave per month, ensuring they have time to rest and take care of their health.
instead of taking menstrual day-off outright, women who experience painful menstruation can be allowed to work remotely
In February 2023, Spain became the first European country to offer working-class women three days of menstrual leave every month. The law gives the right to a three-day ‘menstrual’ leave of absence, with the possibility of extending it to five days for those with disabling periods, which can cause severe cramps, nausea, dizziness and vomiting.
The leave requires a doctor’s note, and the public social security system will foot the bill
Similarly, the town of Saint-Ouen on the northern edge of Paris, this year became the first French municipality to grant paid medical leave to female staff suffering from period pain, hoping to ‘break a taboo’ on the subject and inspire similar moves at the national level.
Nigerian government and employers have therefore been urged to deliberate and strategize on how to make work better for women and how to enhance their overall health.
Organisations have also been encouraged to make provision for sanitary pads in offices so that women can easily take care of themselves as necessary.