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The World’s Most Powerful Women: March 28

If a bill before the Italian parliament becomes law, Italy will be the first Western nation to give women an official “menstrual leave.

The lower house of the legislature is currently discussing a draft law that would require companies to grant female employees three days of paid leave each month if they experience painful periods.

The idea of giving women time off for this kind of discomfort seems to be gaining cross-continental traction. In 2016, the Chinese province of Anhui joined the regions of Hainan and Hubei in decreeing that female workers can take one or two days for their menstrual cycles if they have a doctor’s note. Also last year, a company called Coexist in Bristol, U.K., introduced a “period policy” that lets women leave work if they suffer from serious pain. And in 2015, Zambia passed a law that entitles women to take one day off per month with no notice or explanation due to menstrual bleeding, pain, or cramps.

Anyone who reads WMPW regularly knows I take issue with these blanket policies. By all means, let’s eliminate the taboo surrounding menstruation in the workplace and in society at large. The stigma is a matter of life and death in some cultures, where menstruating women are still banished from communities, with sometimes fatal results. But asking employers to accommodate women’s most mundane biological attribute seems like a retrograde request, especially considering how far women have come without it. Plus, these kinds of policies threaten to undermine women’s long-standing battle to discourage the notion that their natural cycle makes them weak or in any way less able.

Opponents of Italy’s proposal highlight another possible downside of the policy: employers could use it as the basis for bias. It could discourage businesses from hiring women just as a mothers-only maternity leave benefit does. Hire a man instead; he’s guaranteed to not take that time off.

That’s an especially critical consideration in Italy. Women there have access to female-friendly laws, but still face discrimination in the workplace. For instance, women are entitled to five months of paid maternity leave, but the national bureau of statistics reports that almost one in four pregnant workers is fired during or right after giving birth, even though the practice is illegal. Some employers go as far as to ask for signed, undated letters of resignation so they can terminate women without penalty if they become pregnant. Overall, just 61% of Italian women work, well below Europe’s average of 72%, according to The Independent.

Perhaps Italy’s proposed menstrual leave indicates change, but given how existing measures to help women are being misused, it’s hard to see the draft law as the “standard-bearer of progress and social sustainability” some commentators say it could be.

@clairezillman

EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA

Berlin boundIvanka Trump is planning an April trip to Berlin to attend the W20 Summit, a gathering of high-powered women from the G20 countries, and potentially to visit some apprenticeship programs. Trump and Angela Merkel discussed vocational training alongside German and American CEOs when the German chancellor visited the White House earlier this month.Fortune

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No stopping Sturgeon
After meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May in Glasgow on Monday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon signaled that later this week she will formally ask the U.K. government for permission to hold a second independence referendum. May stuck to her position that—given impending Brexit negotiations—“now is not the time” for a second Scottish vote. Sturgeon pushed back, telling reporters after the meeting, “I think it makes it very difficult for the prime minister to maintain a rational opposition to a referendum in the timescale that I have set out.”
Fortune
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Taking to the streets
Thousands of women and men, and Orthodox priests, took to the streets of Romania and Moldova to march against abortion rights on Sunday. Abortions are legal in Romania through the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy; the country has one of the highest abortion rates in Europe
Radio Free Europe

THE AMERICAS

Who ya gonna call?
Need to reach U.S. President Donald Trump? You’re best off calling his Trump Tower assistant Rhona Gaff. She is Trump’s longtime gatekeeper for personal audiences and discreet meetings with old friends. “If I really wanted to whisper something in his ear, I would probably go to Rhona,” New York billionaire John Catsimatidis told Politico.
Politico
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Passing the mic
U.S. media outlets partnered with MuslimGirl, a website run for and by Muslim women, to designate yesterday, March 27, as the first-ever Muslim Women’s Day. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, MuslimGirl’s editor-in-chief, says the day is a chance to “pass the mic” to Muslim women. “Muslim women are rarely given the space to be heard above the noise. This also comes at a time when Muslim women have become the most visible targets of anti-Muslim bigotry,” she says. In that spirit, here’s a list of 17 Muslim-American women who made America great in 2016.
Huffington Post
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Long. Live. Leggings.
United Airlines defended a staff member’s decision to bar two young girls from boarding a flight on Sunday because they were wearing leggings, claiming their attire violated the company’s dress code. Fortune’s Anne VanderMey argues that the seemingly absurd incident “boils down to a disagreement over how much time and effort women ought to be putting into their outfits.”
Fortune

ASIA-PACIFIC

Delaying divorce
Several divorced Muslim women in India are petitioning the country’s Supreme Court to ban “instant divorce,” a practice that allows a husband to irrevocably divorce his wife simply by repeating the Arabic word “Talaq” (“divorce”) three times. One in every 11 Muslim women in India has had a marriage end by “talaq,” leaving many without any financial support and making them de-facto second-class citizens.
NPR
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Makeup-free zone
Japan’s Naturalia café proudly bills itself as the “world’s first no-makeup café bar,” hiring only waitresses who don’t wear makeup or smoke, who don’t have “excessively dyed hair or garish manicures,” and those who have never worked in nightclubs or cabarets. As the company prepares to launch its second branch in Tokyo, its hiring ethics have come under question. While a natural aesthetic might be a beneficial alternative to Japan’s Harajuku street style, it also casts a judgmental light on women who choose to dress differently.
Mashable

IN BRIEF

London women gather on Westminster bridge to honor terror victims
BBC

The ‘Fearless Girl’ statue is staying on Wall Street
Fortune

Angela Merkel toughens her position on Brexit
Financial Times

Former ‘Seventeen’ editor pens a new guide for millennial women
New York Times

New research shows the wage gap harms women’s mental, physical health
Broadly

America Chavez, a Latina and lesbian superhero, gets her own comic book series
New York Times

 

PARTING WORDS

“I realized that if I quit this race…nobody would believe women deserved to be there or that they could do the distance.”
--Kathrine Switzer, who 50 years ago became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.