Getty Images (2); Illustration by Lauren Margit Jones for TIME
Wellness

Offering Women Period Leave is a Double-Edged Sword

March 2, 2016

The founder of HelloFlo weighs in on a British company’s decision to offer its employees time off for menstruation

It seems like every time I read the news these days, someone’s talking about menstruation. Whether it’s about new products (period-proof underwear, anyone?) or policies (like the Tampon Tax), people are clearly interested in period-related news right now. As the founder of HelloFlo, a company launched with the mission of helping girls and women deal with the unique burden and blessing that is having your period each month, this has been an exciting time.

Most recently, the British company Coexist has introduced a policy that will allow women to take days off during their period if they so wish (they reportedly won’t count as their sick days). This follows the news two weeks ago that a whole province in China has also instituted a similar policy.

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I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these policies are now being put in place. There is growing awareness that dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain that can be debilitating enough to disrupt a woman’s daily life, affects up to 20% of women.

When I was younger, I remember getting very severe cramping, which—thankfully—I grew out of. I assumed that my experience had been similar to everyone else’s, and I’ll admit that, before I became more educated about menstruation, I just thought that either I was tougher than other people or that they were exaggerating their discomfort. I really had no idea about the level of pain some women deal with on a monthly basis. I have since educated myself and now have profound respect for the #endosisters who find ways to cope with extreme pain on a regular basis.

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So what do I think about these policies? I think they are good…but.

I love that the period-related pain many women experience is finally being acknowledged and recognized. Any time issues related to women’s health break through the noise and come to the forefront of a conversation, I’m happy.

But there is a downside to this policy.

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In our culture, women on their period are often treated as though they’re psychologically unstable. The fact that women will now be able to miss work but will have to explain that it’s because they are menstruating is a double-edged sword. It’s great that we’re talking openly, but I worry it means that if they were frustrated with coworkers or doing their jobs expediently in the days prior to their being out on their period leave, those actions will be called into question.

I know I get more emotional when I have PMS. It’s a fact of my life. I also know that not all women experience this—and that my emotional state does not inhibit my ability to work well with people or make sound decisions.

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My hope is that period leave will be understood as something that is used to manage physical pain and that the actions of the women who choose to use the leave won’t be subjected to heightened criticism.

Naama Bloom is CEO and founder of HelloFlo, a company that offers care packages to help women and girls through transitional times in their lives.