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Bristol Company Introduces Period Leave

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A Bristol-based company has become the first organisation in the UK to implement a ‘period policy’ which allows its female employees to work flexibly when they are menstruating. Coexist, a social community group, employs 31 people - 24 of whom are women. Bex Baxter, one of the company’s directors, explained that they had introduced the new policy both in order to recognise the pain that some women suffer while on their period, but also to better balance their “work-load in line with the natural cycles of the body… We wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body's natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness.”

Coexist’s new policy is being created as part of a planned seminar which is taking place in the city in a fortnight titled, Pioneering Period Policy: Valuing Natural Cycles in the Workplace. The event will be led by Alexandra Pope, an Australian-born women's leadership coach and facilitator, who co-founded the Red School - an organisation which aims to “awaken menstruality” and educate and inform women about the “power of their cycle.” Pope told Refinery29 that she will present a different way of looking at the menstrual cycle and that she wants to “consign the idea that periods make you weak to the dustbin of history; it’s so dated.”

We want it to be seen as an empowering experience,” she continued, “And that if women understand their cycle, they are actually much more creative, productive and effective. It’s an asset.” Pope says that she has faced resistance from both men and women and is keen to discredit the idea that the policy is inefficient for businesses. “We must remember that this isn’t about women working less. In fact, women can do 10 people’s jobs when they’re ovulating in terms of physical energy. The policy is about working to our strengths and about valuing difference in the workplace. We’re on this slow trajectory moving from a patriarchal consciousness to one that’s more inclusive and this is just another step on that path.”

Up to 80% of women are thought to experience period pain at some point in their lives and for between 5-10%, the pain is severe enough to have a disruptive effect on their everyday lives. A 2014 study by the University of Bath found that women suffering from period pains performed slower at computer-based tasks and also had reduced attention spans.

However, there are very few countries where ‘menstrual leave’ is an option for women and there is an ongoing debate about whether such policies are inherently sexist. Japan was the first country to introduce a ruling regarding the menstrual cycle. A 1947 law allowed women to take days off work when they were on their periods and, a year later, Indonesia passed a ruling meaning that women can take up to two days of menstrual leave every month. More recently in 2013, Taiwan gave women three days of paid menstruation leave a year and, just yesterday, a Chinese province introduced a “female employee labour protection regulation”, meaning that women can take two days off work “as a result of excessive bleeding and painful menstruation that disrupts normal working.”

The UK has no set menstrual leave and it has yet to be debated by the government but regardless of the discussion about whether menstrual leave benefits or damages gender equality in the workplace, Pope believes that many women would be reluctant to take advantage of these days anyway, in case it was regarded as a weakness. “It’s about flexibility and creating a policy where menstruation isn't seen as a problem. If there was a positive policy, women would have a new feeling of confidence and well being.”

So what’s next for the 'period policy' in Britain? Will Coexist’s adoption of the policy lead to a domino effect across multiple workplaces? Pope seems to hope so, but concludes that her main aim is actually rather more muted. “My high dream would be that all women could comfortably and easily respect the rhythm of their menstrual cycle and that it would be respected by men. It would just be a quiet phenomena in the background, not a big deal, not a drama.” We’ll have to just patiently wait to see if she gets that idea flowing.
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