Women who suffer from severe period pain could be allowed to take up to three days off work each month under a reform plan due to be approved by Spain’s government next week.
It would be a first in Europe, although there are several countries in Asia – including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – that offer similar leave.
Previous studies estimate that 60% to 90% of young women worldwide suffer from dysmenorrhea – severe period pain – and in Spain, approximately 75% of women are affected, although exact figures are difficult to verify, according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The Secretary of State for Equality and against Gender Violence, Ángela Rodríguez, told El Periodico the new laws would benefit those suffering from particularly painful periods.
“It is important to clarify what a painful period is, we are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, severe headaches, fever,” said Ms Rodríguez.
The new laws, first revealed by the Cadena Ser radio station, also include other measures to improve menstrual health, including a requirement for schools to provide sanitary products for girls who need them.
Pads and tampons will also be provided free for marginalised women and will have the VAT removed from their sale in supermarkets.
Ms Rodríguez said: “The rights related to menstrual health have never been discussed and the data is chilling.
“One in four women cannot choose the feminine hygiene products she wants to buy for financial reasons. That is why we propose that they can be dispensed free of charge in educational and social centers.”
Changes to abortion and surrogacy rules
The move is part of a wider abortion reform which will allow girls aged 16 and 17 to have a termination without their parents’ permission.
In Spain, abortion is currently legal upon request up to 14 weeks, and later when the pregnancy poses a serious risk to the health of the woman or in the case of foetal abnormalities.
However, the issue remains contentious in the majority-Catholic country.
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The bill also guarantees public funding for hormonal contraceptives and the morning-after pill, and free distribution as part of sex education campaigns, Spanish media reported.
However, it also names surrogacy, which is illegal in Spain, a form of “violence against women”, according to the Cadena Ser. It would allow the courts to prosecute couples who go abroad to use a surrogate.
Reform could ‘stigmatise’ women
Some have expressed concern about the plans for period leave.
Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of the UGT, a major Spanish trade union, told Spanish media the move would “stigmatise women”.
“It does women a disservice,” she added.
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Vice President Nadia Calviño is also reportedly worried it may lead to a general reluctance to hire women due to the possibility they may take three days off on a monthly basis.