Spain’s plan to become the first European nation to allow women to take “menstrual leave” from work sparked a debate that divided the country’s left-wing coalition government and trade unions.
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government is expected to include menstrual leave as part of a reproductive health bill that is expected to be approved at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
“We will recognize in the law the right to leave for women who have painful periods which will be financed by the state,” tweeted the Equal Opportunities Minister Irene Montero on Friday.
He belongs to the far-left Podemos party, the young partners of Sanchez’s coalition.
The bill would introduce at least three days of sickness benefit each month for women suffering from severe menstrual pain, daily El País and other media that saw the bill reported.
Work leave could be extended to five days for women with particularly disabling periods if they have a medical certificate, the reports say.
“There are women who cannot work and live normally because they have really painful periods,” Montero said.
Menstrual leave is currently only offered in a small number of countries, including South Korea and Indonesia, none of which are in Europe.
But the issue is proving controversial in Spain with some politicians and unions saying it could stigmatize women in the workplace and encourage the recruitment of men.
“We must be careful with this type of decision”, said Cristina Antonanzas, deputy secretary of one of the union UGT, adding that this could indirectly affect “the access of women to the labor market”.
But the other major Spanish trade union, the CCOO, welcomed the proposed measure and called it a major “legislative advance” that will recognize a health problem that has so far been “ignored”.
Economy Minister Nadia Calvino, former director general for the budget of the European Commission and a member of the socialist party, said several drafts were being worked on.
“The government will never take a measure that stigmatizes women,” she told reporters Thursday when asked about the controversy.
The head of the main opposition Conservative People’s Party (PP), Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said it is up to doctors to decide when sick leave is justified.
He accused the government of trying to distract attention from a cell phone spying scandal with the measure.
Ana Ferrer, of the Association of Victims of Endometriosis, a condition that can lead to more severe menstrual symptoms, said she feared the measure would lead to “discrimination” against women even if it is intended to protect their rights.
“What we need, more than leave, is recognition of our disability,” he told AFP.
The Reproductive Health Bill also provides for the elimination of value added tax (VAT) on certain feminine health products such as tampons.
It will also include measures to increase access to abortion in private hospitals and change the law to allow children aged 16 and 17 to terminate a pregnancy without parental consent.
Spain decriminalized abortion in 1985 in case of rape, if a fetus is malformed or if childbirth represents a serious physical or psychological risk to the mother.
The scope of the law was expanded in 2010 to allow abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, but access to the procedure is complicated by the fact that many doctors in public hospitals refuse to perform abortions.