Spain plans for paid ‘period leave’ for women workers, wider abortion access

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Spain’s left-wing coalition government this week approved a draft proposal with a broad range of reproductive rights provisions, including one that would make Spain the first European country to grant workers paid “menstrual leave.”

Under the plan, the government would foot the bill for women to take days off work if they are diagnosed by a doctor with severe menstrual pain. More than half of women who menstruate experience some pain for one to two days each month, with some feeling pain so acute that it keeps them from doing normal tasks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“Periods will no longer be taboo,” Equality Minister Irene Montero said after the bill passed Spain’s cabinet.

“No more going to work with pain, no more taking pills before arriving at work and having to hide the fact we’re in pain that makes us unable to work,” said Montero, who was pushing for the bill’s passage.

The measure forms part of a wider reproductive rights package that would also allow teenagers ages 16 and older to obtain an abortion without parental consent and remove a requirement that a pregnant individual seeking an abortion confirm the decision three days after requesting the procedure. It also includes provisions to widen access to sanitary pads for students. Spain’s parliament will have to debate the draft bill, in an approval process that could take months.

Spain currently allows abortion upon request up to the 14th week of pregnancy. Beyond that, it is allowed up to 22 weeks under certain circumstances, such as fetal abnormality.

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The bill has been a “long time in the making,” said Caroline Hickson, regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network.

She said that a key part of the menstrual leave provision is that doctors can recommend sick leave for any health issue.

“In theory, if you have a painful period, you should be as entitled as any other illness,” she said. “It’s really about the normalization of something so simple, so basic — that for years has been such a source of shame and stigma, embarrassment.”

Leah Hoctor, senior regional director for Europe for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told The Washington Post that Spain’s bill is part of a broader movement around Europe to recognize the “specific needs and protection” for everyone who has periods.

Only a handful of countries, including South Korea and Indonesia, offer forms of menstrual leave. In some countries, employees are reportedly reluctant to ask for leave, while others fear discrimination.

Similar concerns have been raised about offering period leave in Spain.

Cristina Antonanzas, deputy secretary general of one of Spain’s biggest trade unions, UGT, warned that the period leave provision could impact “women’s access to the labor market.”

“You have to be careful with this type of decision,” France 24 quoted her as saying.

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