It’s the best kept secret in the world: One in two women and up to 60% of women aged 15-19 years Painful periods can be disabling. If the topic is still a taboo, both in society and in the professional realm, the Toulouse startup made headlines in early May after it backtracked on its period leave. Going forward, at Louis Design, employees can take one day off per month during their tenures, without this entailing losing salary or providing medical evidence.
If this initiative is unprecedented in France, in Japan, menstruation leave was introduced in 1947. It is also the subject of law in South Korea, Indonesia and Zambia. In Europe, Spain could be a pioneer in this field, as the current government recently introduced a bill aimed at creating temporary sick leave for employees, fully funded by the state.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go in France. According to Juwede Sehely, a sociologist at the Center for Studies and Research on Jobs and Professionalism (Cerep) at the University of Reims-Champagne-Ardennes, the question of the menstrual cycle remains invisible due to the patriarchal structure of our society that ignores and limits this quota. Intimate domain rules.
It’s always taboo
“Talk of menstruation is rejected because of perceptions of bodily fluids that are seen as leftovers and dirtyDjoida Al-Suhaili explains. Furthermore, grammar is an untapped area of research in the humanities because it is considered an illicit subject. Reglophobia, confirmed by study From 2020, he revealed that for 55% of the population, talking about menstrual periods in public is “inappropriate”. “However, questioning this issue is essential to reconsidering the gender inequalities within society,” Sociologist insists.
In the professional field, the question of the menstrual cycle is also silent: “The world of work is one of the places where differences and hierarchies between the sexes often existidentifies Tanguy Dufournet, a sociologist at Cerep. It is clear that workspaces were not designed to take into account the biological functions of women.”
So everyone is accustomed to the woman who keeps up appearances and continues to do the same work as usual during her periods. “From an early age, women internalize the need to hide their period and silence the pain they experience, both during school and later in the workplace. Moreover, pain is often presented as the norm, a kind of obligatory passage to reach fertility.
When Louis Design grabbed the headlines, the comments on social media, many of which were from women, were stark: “I’ve spent my entire career gnashing my teeth and getting past it without moaning!” ; “When we think of our grandmothers who worked in the fields or in the factory without grumbling, we tell ourselves that the new generation is really comfortable!”
‘My colleagues never knew anything’
For two years, about every month, 31-year-old Anne, a facilitator at Seine-Saint-Denis, has been taking days off in anticipation of her period, demanding medical appointments. “I didn’t want to feed representations about the fragility of women at work with my boss or colleagues. As a result, I spent nearly all of my vacation there.
Oror, a house painter, chose to change course due to her painful and bleeding periods that kept her from working several days a month. “I didn’t say anything to my boss, to my colleagues, or to occupational medicine. It’s a masculine environment where it’s very difficult to find a place for yourself as a woman. Admitting a weakness because of my gender was out of the question.
This fact reminds us that recognition of a female-related phenomenon can fuel the risk of occupational exclusion: “Unfortunately, maternity-related discrimination has not been eliminated from the professional world.Valerie Deuz Rove, labor attorney, regrets me. We are still far from realizing the difficulties their rules can impose on employees.
When the situation becomes unacceptable, some are forced to rely on their superiors. Charlotte, 34, a police officer at Versailles, had to change service to be able to work sitting near the toilet. “I informed my manager of my situation. He was accommodating and offered me a place in an office. So I reluctantly gave up lifeguard patrols, and my colleagues didn’t know anything about what I was experiencing during my period. In mid-May, Charlotte found out she had endometriosis and, like many women who have particularly painful periods, are no longer satisfied with minimizing their suffering, are looking for a diagnosis.
When endometriosis comes to work
Recent moves around endometriosis, a disease discovered so far from 1860, gives a shy view of the issue of the menstrual cycle in the public and professional spheres. This condition, which makes the menstrual cycle completely obstructed, affects 10% of women. “This is a chronic disease Associated with the presence of endometrial tissue outside the uterus Still severely underdiagnosed and mistreatedDjoida Al-Suhaili explains. Unfortunately for women, but also affected trans men, the professional world is not at all suitable. Those affected may obtain the status of a disabled worker. But it is difficult to obtain, which makes employees more dangerous and can slow down their professional development.
Sarah, 30, director of communications in Paris, was diagnosed with endometriosis after seven years of medical fugue. “My period became so painful over time that I started vomiting and fainting during contractions. At work, I was taking sick leave every month, which raised questions from the company and forced me to go to the doctor when I could barely stand. A few months later, his former employers offered him a traditional break. “I felt that due to my frequent absences, I wasn’t productive enough for the company.
In her current job, she is always on the alert: “I never know how long I will be in pain or when the crises will be most severe. You have to constantly struggle with guilt for team failure without warning, and manage colleagues’ questions. This constant concealment of the disease is exhausting.”
The suffering and isolation of having an invisible handicap Ann, 31, who was also diagnosed with endometriosis, knows her all too well. “Between the fear of feeling unwell, judging colleagues, managing pain and not having a place to rest at work…the stress is ongoing.”
Towards more equal and inclusive workspaces?
In her new job, Sarah has dared to talk about her situation to her managers. But if the news is welcomed kindly, the only solution that has been found is that the young woman is taking unpaid leave every month. “In my pay stub, I always have one, two or three working days paid. If we add the loss of income to what has cost me the supplements and the specialists I consult (orthopedics, acupuncturists, physiotherapists) to help me manage my pain, this The situation greatly impoverishes me.
How do you reconcile women’s health, gender equality and work? If the idea of a period leave can be tempting, it is also accused of being a vector of a new distinction: “Employees, although protected by provisions of law, will always be subject to productivity limitations, Valerie Dawes-Ruff introduces me. So a period leave can turn into a poisoned gift for female employees. It is preferable to allow them to take advantage of flexible working hours, rest areas, or days of remote work during their lifetime.
This approach involves making spaces and organizing work time more inclusive in order to meet the basic needs of as many people as possible. In the office, this can include sanitary protection, but also places of rest where everyone can go as they please, without the risk of being accused of laziness.
Because it is the constant search for productivity that fuels gender inequality and makes everyone’s weaknesses invisible at work. A demand that drives individual performance, at the expense of individual well-being and collective feeling.