Vibhuti [at the twitter handle @victorvibhu ] tweeted me a question about the ongoing discussion on paid menstrual leave for women. Did I support it? And I said no, because it would further increase the gender pay gap. Vibhuti thought I needed to explain that a bit more, so here is what I mean.
The difference in pay between employed men and women is a major cause of gender inequity in almost all countries. The Norwegian government found that even when women were equally or more qualified, performed as well, and got equal pay, there still was a gender pay gap. They found this was because women took maternity leave and men did not.
Then the Norwegian government pushed for legislation on paternity leave, and campaigned vigorously for men to participate equally in the raising of their children. This was Norway’s pappapermisjon. Now when a couple has a child in Norway, the parents divide up the 46-week fully paid parental leave. 90% of fathers take at least 12 of those weeks taking care of their newborns, and this is because this is the time quota of the joint paternal leave earmarked only for fathers.
As a result, today Norway has the least gender pay gap and is followed by Denmark and Sweden – the other countries that also have shared parental leave.
I feel if women start pushing for menstrual leave, it will further increase the gender pay gap. While some countries have been able to undo the negative impact of maternity leave on pay gap by pushing for paternity leave, there would be no male equivalent for menstrual leave.
More so, menstrual discomfort varies widely from woman to woman. Why shouldn’t those for those whom it is debilitating, count it in their sick leave? For if we start with menstrual leave, where are we going to draw the line? PMS leave? Post-partum depression leave? Menopausal leave?
If we begin to work women’s natural body cycles into the work place in terms of measured and guaranteed leave, it will not only impact negatively on the gender pay gap, but it will make employers wary of hiring women.
It will also hurt women’s chances of making inroads into areas that require physical fitness and are already heavily male dominated — like space travel, the armed forces etc.