Painful re­al­ity

Swim­mer Fu Yuan­hui may have bro­ken a taboo by talk­ing about men­strual pain at the Rio Olympics, but ‘men­stru­a­tion leave’ re­mains a dis­tant dream for most fe­male work­ers

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - ByWUYIYAO in Shang­hai wuyiyao@chi­

“Men­stru­a­tion leave” re­mains a dream for most fe­male work­ers, de­spite it no longer be­ing a taboo sub­ject.

When 27-year-old mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist Wang Yina ap­plied for two days’ leave in Septem­ber, she didn’t cite the ex­cuse of “stom­achache”. In her ap­pli­ca­tion to her boss, Wang said she was hav­ing her men­strual pe­riod, and can­not bear the pain.

“Af­ter Chi­nese swim­mer Fu Yuan­hui spoke in front of the cam­era say­ing she suf­fered from men­stru­a­tion pain and lost a medal dur­ing the Rio Olympics, she broke the taboo on talk­ing about pe­riod in pub­lic. She spoke about a prob­lem shared by many fe­male work­ers, and I no longer hide the true rea­son for tak­ing a leave,” says Wang.

Her boss, Xiao Liang, a 41-year-old who runs a brand­ing and mar­ket­ing com­pany with 12 em­ploy­ees, agreed to let Wang take a two-day paid leave on con­di­tion that she com­pleted her as­sign­ments on time. “I am the fa­ther of two daugh­ters, and I have a wife, too. I know men­strual pe­riod can be painful,” says Xiao.

But Wang’s case is rare in today’s world of busi­ness and com­merce, many em­ploy­ers say. First, few women would ap­ply for a paid leave cit­ing men­stru­a­tion pain as the rea­son and, se­cond, even if they do, the chances of their ap­pli­ca­tions be­ing ac­cepted are pretty slim, be­cause em­ploy­ers are do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to con­trol la­bor costs.

In fact, many fe­male work­ers say they would not ap­ply for such a leave.

In re­cent years, some lo­cal gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing those of the Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gion, and An­hui and Shanxi prov­inces, have in­tro­duced poli­cies to pro­tect fe­male work­ers’ right to take a one- or two­day leave if they have a doc­tor’s cer­tifi­cate con­firm­ing that their men­strual pe­ri­ods are painful.

How­ever, only a small num­ber of em­ploy­ers say they have re­ceived such ap­pli­ca­tions from fe­male work­ers. Zhang Xiaoju, 46, a res­i­dent of Zhengzhou, He­nan prov­ince, says she has never asked for leave dur­ing her men­strual pe­riod af­ter she quit her job in a tex­tile fac­tory, which em­ployed about 3,000 fe­male work­ers, and joined a for­eign trad­ing com­pany with 200 em­ploy­ees in 2005.

“In the fac­tory I joined two decades ago there was a clinic. When fe­male work­ers’ men­stru­a­tion pain be­came un­bear­able, they went to the clinic and got a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion which al­lowed them to take a two­day leave. The clinic even had an acupunc­ture prac­ti­tioner who helped re­duce the pain. In short, the fac­tory took care of al­most all emer­gency med­i­cal needs. But when I quit the fac­tory job and joined a trad­ing com­pany in 2005, I fig­ured out men­stru­a­tion is a per­sonal is­sue, and you are paid to work, not to take leave sim­ply be­cause you have your pe­riod,” she says.

Eco­nomic devel­op­ment and cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion, iron­i­cally, have made “men­stru­a­tion leave” an im­pos­si­bil­ity. A woman could even lose her job for ask­ing for such a leave, Zhang says.

Shang­hai hu­man re­sources and so­cial wel­fare depart­ment of­fi­cials say there is no cen­tral gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion ex­plic­itly stat­ing that fe­male work­ers are en­ti­tled to paid leave dur­ing men­strual pe­riod.

“If the au­thor­i­ties re­quire em­ploy­ers to grant such a leave, they may be­come more re­luc­tant to hire fe­male work­ers to cut la­bor costs, which in the long run may re­duce job op­por­tu­ni­ties for women and hin­der the pro­tec­tion of fe­male work­ers’ rights,” says a let­ter from the Shang­hai au­thor­i­ties in re­sponse to a ques­tion on whether Shang­hai has in­cluded paid “men­stru­a­tion leave” in its lo­cal reg­u­la­tions to pro­tect fe­male work­ers’ rights.

Hu­man re­sources ex­perts say em­ploy­ers can work out their own paid leave poli­cies so long as they are le­gal and treat each em­ployee’s ap­pli­ca­tion for leave on merit.

Zhao Dong­hai, hu­man re­sources con­sul­tant with Shang­hai Zhongzhi Con­sul­tancy, a hu­man re­sources and re­cruit­ment com­pany, says en­ter­prises may con­sider grant­ing “men­stru­a­tion leave” but it does not have to be paid leave, or the terms for tak­ing such a leave can be ne­go­ti­ated.

“Fe­male work­ers in cer­tain pro­fes­sions, par­tic­u­larly in the ser­vice sec­tor, may not be able to do full jus­tice to their jobs if they suf­fer from un­bear­able pain. You can’t ex­pect a shop as­sis­tant in ut­ter pain to fake a smile to please cus­tomers, or a lobby man­ager in dis­tress to ex­plain de­tails to guests with pa­tience and care. Em­ploy­ers should be more flex­i­ble and hu­mane … and build a healthy re­la­tion­ship with em­ploy­ees by giv­ing fe­male work­ers men­stru­a­tion leave,” Zhao says.

A re­search note from global re­cruit­ment ex­pert firm Hays says em­ploy­ees are at­tach­ing great im­por­tance to wel­fare. As long as em­ploy­ees’ ba­sic de­mands are met and they can af­ford to pay all the bills, the in­cen­tives will be fac­tors as im­por­tant as their salaries, in­clud­ing work and life bal­ance, recog­ni­tion and care, says Chris­tine Wright, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Asia at Hays.


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