Menstrual leave and gender marketing – Spain’s new draft bills

Spain has become the first European country to approve a draft law to give paid period leave to women suffering from severe menstrual pain. The proposed legislation is sparking a debate about an issue that is still being largely ignored in the global world of work.

Women suffering from severe period pain are to be given menstrual leave in Spain.
Image: © ssstocker/Adobe Stock

Period leave: emancipation or stigmatization?

Cramps, headache, fatigue, and heavy bleeding: Each month, billions of women experience uncomfortable and painful menstrual symptoms. For some, the symptoms are so debilitating that they can hardly go about their day-to-day life.

In response, Spain is planning on introducing a gender-specific law to grant menstrual leave – the first country in the EU to do so. Only a few countries in the world have already adopted similar legislation: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Zambia, for example, offer paid leave for women with menstrual problems. However, a recent survey conducted by Nikkei in March 2022 found that only 10 percent of female employees in Japan utilize this option.

Why? Because many women still fear that they’ll be stigmatized or professionally disadvantaged if they take menstrual leave.

Opinions are also split among politicians in Spain with regard to its draft law. Nadia Calviño, Minister for the Economy, is known to be a passionate defender of women’s rights and interprets the law as a step back for gender equality: “This government will never adopt measures that stigmatize women,” was her stance in the debate. Yolanda Diaz, Minister for Work, counterargued that stigmatization only occurs when the gaps between men and women in the world of work are ignored.

And how will the planned law work in practice? Menstrual leave will be granted upon presentation of a medical certificate and would need to be requested per month if symptoms arise. So it won’t generally be handed out to all women. The costs of the work absence are to be covered by social security.

In Germany, this issue has not been discussed to date. Such a law granting additional paid leave would also violate the current Act on Equal Treatment.

However, some companies are offering their employees the straightforward option of taking menstrual leave as sick leave, for example The Female Company in Berlin and everdrop in Munich.

Spain additionally tightens rules on gender marketing

On top of the discussion surrounding the draft law for menstrual leave, Spain is also tightening its rules on sexist advertising. Although this kind of advertising was banned in 2004, companies are still using gender stereotypes in their marketing campaigns. It’s an especially popular tactic in the toy industry: girls play with dolls, while boys are adventurers.

The new code contains 64 new rules to make toy advertising more neutral. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs hopes that this will promote a pluralistic, egalitarian, and stereotype-free image of minors.