Filipinos’ reactions to menstrual leave bill show how little we continue to value women in the workplace

Rep. Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women’s Party-list today filed House Bill 7758, which seeks to grant women a maximum of two days of paid leave each month for painful periods. 

If the bill gets passed into law, the Philippines would join a number of countries that also offer paid menstrual leave for its employees such as Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Zambia, and most recently, Spain — which mandated menstrual leave in February.

The leaves would be non-cumulative and non-convertible to cash. This means if women don’t choose to take their entitled menstrual leaves for the month, they can’t save up their leaves at a later time, nor can they opt to exchange these for bonuses.

The Philippines has pretty dismal labor entitlements to begin with — instead of mandating employers to provide their workers with separate sick and vacation leaves, current labor laws only require companies to provide workers with five paid leaves a year, called service incentive leaves.

With not enough leave credits to allocate towards illnesses and valid reasons for paid time off such as vacations — because God forbid that we attempt some work-life balance —, women have to deal with the added disadvantage of having their monthly visitor, and the accompanying pain that comes with it. And while women will typically experience period pain at some point in their lives, some have it even worse than others due to a number of conditions such as endometriosis, a condition that causes severe pain and infertility.

These things should be self-explanatory. But browse through the comments on any social media posts about Rep. Brosa’s bill and you will see that there are clearly a lot of people who simply don’t understand its necessity. From laugh reactions to sarcastic comments about “hangover leaves” for men, to people calling the legislation “a useless bill” — many seriously just don’t get it.

“Gabriela has lost their minds,” one user said.

“I will file a drinking session leave too for us men,” one chided.

“I thought women can do everything a man can? [We men] are at the losing end of this, we need a two-day leave too when we have hangovers #genderequality,” another sarcastically remarked.

Unsurprisingly, most of these comments are coming from the unfairer sex that has never had to deal with the experience of barely standing up due to excruciating pain. Or placing a hot pack over their lower bellies and praying it would be enough to deal with the discomfort. Or waiting for painkillers to kick in and, after hours of suffering, wondering if you should take another.

Surprisingly, however, there were also a number of comments coming from women who argued that passing such a bill would signify that women are weak and that those who need it are being maarte (drama queens) as periods happen every month. This completely ignores the fact that a) certain painkillers, such as Ibuprofen, may be harmful to the liver when taken regularly; b) some women’s menstrual pain can be so severe that the usual relief methods are insufficient to treat them.

“So Gabriela really wants to make women seem they are weak. Women need to rest when they have periods??? Employers may not hire women anymore because they are being overdramatic. Periods happen monthly, so they should get used to it and know how to handle the pain,” a woman wrote.

Add to that the fact that women already deal with the double burden of having to care for their children and their families on top of contributing to their household incomes, a universal struggle that the United Nations said intensified during the pandemic. 

Period pain can be debilitating and an incredible burden adding to the weight of what women already have to carry. The guilt they also suffer from having to take time off of work to deal with their periods only further fuels this anxiety.

That said, many have pointed out that passing this bill into law may only further alienate women in the workplace, as employers may choose to hire more men over women simply because it is less costly to do so. While the law should protect women from this kind of discrimination, the degree of enforcement and cultural attitudes may still give employers loopholes to circumvent it.

Which all really boils down to one thing: as a nation, we suck when it comes to respecting and protecting the rights of women in the workplace. This bill could be a good first step towards correcting that, but if larger cultural changes don’t happen, it might not be enough.


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