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Women to be offered three-day menstrual leave from work in European first — but critics fear hiring ‘stigmatization’

May 12, 2022, 3:34 PM UTC

Spain’s government is preparing a law that would overhaul its current regulation around women’s rights—covering everything from menstruation leave to abortion reform.

The draft legislation, which is being discussed by Spain’s socialist-led coalition government next week, plans to allow women over the age of 16 to have an abortion without being granted permission from their parents or guardians.

It also introduces several measures to make menstruation and women’s sexual health a matter of public health.

The legislation plans three days of menstrual leave a month, extendable to five, for women who suffer from severe period pain.

It also makes pads and tampons available for free at schools, educational centers, and to marginalized women, while also removing the VAT from their sale in supermarkets.

It is unclear how many of the reforms will be kept in the text by the time it reaches the Council of Ministers next Tuesday and what its final wording will be, according to El Pais.

Hiring fears

However, some critics fear the menstruation reform may lead to more prejudice against hiring a woman in the workplace.

Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of the Unión General de Trabajadores—a major Spanish trade union—told Spanish radio network Cadena Ser the move might “stigmatize women,” adding “I don’t know if it does us women a disservice.”

Nadia Calviño, the First Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, assured the public in an interview on RTVE saying the government “is not going to take any action that stigmatizes women,” with regards to menstruation.

Abortion reform

The new legislation, if signed into law, will break down many of the barriers to women getting an abortion.

Not only will people under the age of 16 be allowed to get an abortion without their parent’s consent, but the law will also eliminate the three-day period of reflection required for women before getting an abortion.

While voluntary abortion was previously legal in Spain for women in the first 14 weeks of gestation, there was difficulty in finding a hospital or a doctor that would be willing to perform the procedure, according to the Guardian.

In the new legislation, there will be a register containing the names of all the doctors willing to do the procedure, and any medical staff who does not want to do the procedure will be given the ability to opt out of their involvement.

As part of the new reforms, the government also plans to provide free hormonal contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, which will be financed into the public health system and distributed within a framework of sex education campaigns, the draft legislation says.

Extended paid leave for childbirth

There are also new proposed reforms for women who do want a child.

Paid leave for childbirth is to be extended in the draft legislation to begin from week 36 to the moment of birth — giving mothers 4 extra weeks’ pay.

The legislation also includes more laws around surrogacy, which in Spain is currently illegal as it is considered a form of “violence against women.”

The new law would allow the courts to prosecute couples who go abroad to use a surrogate.

“It is this government’s duty and its intention to safeguard the right to abortion in the public health system and do away with the obstacles that prevent women from deciding when it comes to their bodies and their lives,” Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero said in February.

Menstruation action

While most women celebrate the more relaxed rules on abortion, others believe menstruation leave may negatively impact women.

Around a third of women who menstruate suffer from severe period pain known as dysmenorrhea, according to the Spanish Gynecology and Obstetrics Society.

“When the problem cannot be solved medically, we think it is very sensible that there should be temporary incapacity associated with this issue,” Ángela Rodríguez, Spain’s Secretary of State for Equality and against Gender Violence, said to El Periodico in a recent interview. 

“It is important to clarify what a painful period is, we are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhea, severe headaches, fever,” Rodríguez said.

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