Imagine you’re at your place of work and suddenly you have to decide this: “If I’m going to puke or if I’m going to tough it out.”
That’s what it feels like for Oak Bay pharmacy assistant Isabel Davis-Stevenson when she has menstrual pains.
At work she’s expected to stand for eight hours on her feet with no chance to sit except during her lunch break. She describes the pain as “contractions almost.”
“I have to take a minute, I have to stop, I have to like let it happen, or I lose focus,” Davis-Stevenson said. “I’m just in a lot of pain because my job is super busy.”
Davis-Stevenson isn’t the only woman who deals with these monthly, unworkable pains. Up to 90 per cent of menstruators describe their period pain as moderate to severe, according to paidperiodleave.ca. The website is also a page for a nationwide petition for menstruators with period pains to receive paid leave.
Started by Lanna Last on her 34th birthday, the Paid Period Leave petition has been open to sign since March 29, and it will close on July 23.
“I’ve had my period for 24 years and it’s been terrible, terrible pain to manage,” said Last, who was inspired by legislation in Spain. “I get this type of pain where it’s like being stabbed in my abdomen and the knife is being dragged down to my knee on repeat. I’m also super sick with nausea and vomiting during it. So this is how I’ve been living for 24 years, every single month.”
Last then reached out to Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo, who authorized to petition on this subject in the House of Commons.
“The employment regulations, whether it’s employment insurance or the labour code, were all formulated in a time when the participation rate of women was basically half of what it is today,” Zarrillo said. “There hasn’t been much change over 50 years in relation to employment insurance and the labour code. We are now in a time where we can modernize and we need to take advantage of those new awakenings and those new learnings.”
Some of the concerns individuals have had with the idea of a paid period leave is that it could be exploited.
“It would just suck if people ‘milked it’ or took advantage of it, but I definitely think it would be a great thing to implemented in Canada,” said University of Victoria student Dani Ward.
Other concerns are that productivity from the menstruators would be lost.
“A 2018 study found that people who fade during their work from menstrual pains reported 81 per cent of reported loss of productivity and that they lost 23 days of work,” said Last. “It’s not like going home will actually really affect the productivity of the workflow. You’re actually way more productive (than) if you just stayed and tried to make it through.”
The details of the leave are still undecided, but Last wants the general structure to be as simple as telling your boss you’re on menstrual leave and are allowed to take the time off. If the individual is not comfortable saying that, then HR policies kick in and they can do a protected leave communicating to your employer through an app that you’re on leave and only they could see it. Last wants to make the latter an option, “so that they’re ways people’s privacy stays intact.”
“We can kind of learn from their mistakes. So in terms of the policy for government, we’ve decided three to five days (of leave), but that will still depend on the menstruating individual. Especially if someone has endometriosis, you definitely want someone there that can understand that that may require hospitalization more then just five days and up to seven.”
After the petition closes in July, it will be tabled in September when the MPs return. If the petition has at least 500 signatures, it will be presented in the House of Commons and will wait for a government response within 45 days.