Spain wants to create “menstrual leave”, an unprecedented measure in Europe

In order to put an end to a “taboo”, the Spanish leftist government presented a bill on Tuesday creating a “menstrual leave” for women suffering from painful periods, a first in Europe. “We are going to be the first country in Europe to introduce temporary sick leave fully funded by the state for painful and disabling menstruation”, welcomed the Minister for Equality, Irene Montero, at the end of the Council. ministers.

“It’s over going to work with pain”

“The periods will no longer be taboo (..) It’s over with going to work with pain” or “gorging on tablets” and “hiding our pain”, added the minister, one of the leaders of the radical left party Podemos, partner of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s socialist party in the coalition government. The minister had indicated earlier on public television that this sick leave, which must be signed by the attending physician, “would not have a time limit” while a preliminary version of the project released last week by the media referred to a three-day leave, which can be extended to five in the event of acute symptoms.

This text will have to be approved by Parliament where the government is a minority, before it can come into force.

A rare and controversial measure

If the executive gets the green light from MEPs, Spain will become the first country in Europe and one of the few in the world to include this measure in its legislation, like Japan, Indonesia or Zambia for example. “We are moving forward in terms of feminism. Women must be able to decide freely about their lives”, praised Pedro Sánchez on Twitter in reference to a bill which also strengthens the right to abortion in the country. In France, as in the United Kingdom or the United States, some companies grant such “menstrual leave” to their employees, but it is not enshrined in law.

In Spain, however, the measure aroused reluctance within the executive itself, among the socialist ministers, but also within the unions. “You have to be careful with this type of decision,” warned Friday the deputy general secretary of the UGT, one of the two main Spanish unions, Cristina Antoñanzas, saying she was worried about a possible brake on the hiring of women by employers wishing to avoid these absences. An analysis refuted by Workers’ Commissions (CCOO), the other major Spanish union, which welcomed a major “legislative advance”, likely to “make visible and recognize a health problem hitherto ignored”.

Strengthen access to abortion in public hospitals

This “menstrual leave” is one of the flagship measures of a broader bill that also plans to strengthen access to abortion in public hospitals, which perform less than 15% of abortions in the country due to massive conscientious objection from physicians. It must also allow minors to abort without their parents’ authorization at the age of 16 and 17, reversing an obligation introduced by a previous conservative government in 2015. Abortion was decriminalized in Spain in 1985 then legalized in 2010, but abortion remains a right strewn with pitfalls in this country with a strong Catholic tradition where anti-abortion movements are very active.

The government text also provides for a strengthening of sex education in schools as well as the free distribution of morning after pills in health centers and contraceptives in high schools. The Minister for Equality also wanted to include in this bill the reduction of VAT on menstrual hygiene products, from 10% to 4%, but this measure was ultimately not retained. Spain is a country considered one of the pioneers in Europe in terms of feminism since the adoption in 2004 of a law on gender violence. Claiming to be feminist, the Sánchez government has more women (14) than men (9 including the Prime Minister).

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