21 February 2020
A discussion of the issue of menstrual leave can help promote gender equality and fairness in the workplace. Photo: Reuters
A discussion of the issue of menstrual leave can help promote gender equality and fairness in the workplace. Photo: Reuters

Understanding menstrual leave

Menstruation is a monthly curse for many women. Backache, stomach ache, headache, dizziness and even nausea are commonly experienced by ladies going through their period.

In Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Indonesia, female employees are granted menstrual leave of one to two days every month, during which they are excused from work and allowed to take a good rest at home.

As women around the world have become more assertive of their rights, menstrual leave is now more openly discussed.

Some of those who are opposed to such a policy argue that male employees will not be able to enjoy the same amount of days off.

But it should be noted that sense of fairness is not the same as the pursuit of equality. Being fair is to respect the differences among individuals and to provide them with different choices and opportunities for equal status in life.

Whether the Employment Ordinance in Hong Kong has overlooked the physical differences between the two sexes is worth investigating.

Is it possible that female needs have been neglected in the workplace and female employees are made to keep up with their male counterparts despite their physical and biological differences?

Female employees are also worried about being discriminated against in hiring practices if menstrual leave is officially established. Such concern is a blatant distortion of social values by tradition.

According to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, gender bias during recruitment is unlawful. Yet people have cited grey areas in the legislation, such as the legal responsibilities of employers who discriminate against certain workers.

Actually, such concerns stem from the poor enforcement of the law. If there are grey areas in the law, it should be remedied by legislative amendment.

For centuries, the menstrual cycle has been viewed as something unclean and the issue is treated as a taboo.

Employers, especially males, are often reluctant to approve sick leaves because they neither see menstrual pain as a big deal nor are they prepared to make sacrifices in human resources for such a cause.

Hopefully, there will be more discussion about the issue of menstrual leave, which could be an opportunity to eradicate myths and biases about menstruation and promote gender equality and fairness in the workplace.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 4

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Education Officer of the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong