Period Pain

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2019 National Women's Conference
24 October 2018

Periods are a fact of life for women everywhere, yet they are still by many regarded as a stigma which cannot be discussed, and which women should just endure quietly without inconveniencing anyone. While some women suffer only mild symptoms many suffer severe debilitating pain and cramps every month.

Ahead of International Day of the Girl on 11 October 2017, Plan International UK conducted a study with girls aged 14 to 21 years old and found that 48% felt embarrassed about their period. This shame prevents open discussion: only one in five girls felt comfortable talking to a teacher about their period and less than a third felt okay talking to their dad about it. Not only does this stigma have consequences on young girls growing up but it continues into later working life.

Many employers these days have sickness policies which are designed to discourage people taking sickness absence resulting in a climate of presentism. In some workplaces people are reviewed if they are off for more than one short period of time and could end up at a hearing if this continues.

YouGov Omnibus research conducted on behalf of BBC Radio 5 in 2016 show that 57% of employed women who suffer from period pain say that it affected their ability to work. However only 27% of these women ever admitted to their employer that this was the case. 31% gave their employer a different reason to explain their troubles while yet an even larger proportion of 33% did not let on that they were feeling unwell at all. 35% of the women who said that period pain affected their ability to work find that period pain affects their ability by making it harder to concentrate. 19% had to take a short break because of the pain, 35% had to go home early and 17% had to take a day off because of the pain. Society has been slow to recognise that period pain can be a significant issue working women everywhere. Some countries including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia have laws in place which allow women time off work when they are menstruating. Similar policies have also been proposed by lawmakers in Italy and Russia.

Tahira Patala an employment law consultant at ELAS said: “It is a long standing principle that the effects of any impairment are key when it comes to establishing disability, and employers need to consider this when assessing any absence caused by period pain. Period pains are not specifically covered as a disability under the Equality Act however in severe cases they could be considered a disability. This would be assessed on an individual basis and is about extreme cases of pain. As such, I cannot see that there would be an influx of claims. When considering the facts, an employer should look at other conditions which are associated with period pains such as migraines, PMS or endometriosis.”

• Conference we ask National Women’s Committee to work with Labour Link to work together towards either recognising severe period pain under the Equality Act or to encourage the government / employers to introduce some sort of menstrual leave policy similar to those in other countries mentioned.

• Conference we also request National Women’s Committee to work with Labour Link to work together towards introducing some sort of awareness campaign introduced like those of other disabilities i.e. mental health to help quash the stigma surrounding periods.