Addressing period stigma in the workplace by Dr Fatumina Abukar

In a survey by DPG, 47% said that period stigma is evident in the workplace. To address this topic, award-winning success coach for female leaders, Dr Fatumina Abukar shares her expert insights.

“You shouldn’t say that word!” said my boss. “Which word?” … I asked. He said: “Period – you shouldn’t be using that word at work.” 

We’ve all been there. It’s no secret that as female workers we pretend that we are functioning normally even though we are actively bleeding. We are expected to hide our ‘period pads’ or ‘cups’ or ‘tampons’ because it’s a disgrace if anyone sees you holding one, so instead, we take our entire bag because most of the toilets in workplaces don’t offer any period products. Period shaming is a constant battle at work for us menstruators and it’s time that it’s talked about!

Workplaces are not safe spaces for menstruating people to ask for things they need because of the stigma surrounding periods.

Around 80% of women with periods experience menstrual pain at some stage in their lifetime, with around 20% experiencing dysmenorrhea (technical term for severe period pains). Yet, we are expected to go to work as normal and on top of that to not talk about it – we use the headache excuse to ask for painkillers in the office, we hide pads in our pockets when going to the toilet, we smile through the pain during meetings.

Periods are still seen as shameful, dirty, and taboo.

Not speaking openly about periods is harmful to menstruating people and it only reinforces the stigma that menstruation is something to be ashamed of. Female bodies work differently from that of their male counterparts and there is nothing shameful about saying that our bodies function differently and have different needs. 

Just under 47% of the global workforce is recorded female yet there are often no policies in the workplace to support menstruators. The pandemic showed that the current way of working is archaic and that flexible hours can only benefit companies – the last two years have seen many menstruators work efficiently from home, so workplaces should make these changes. 

Menstrual leave is already adopted by several countries including Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. However, only a small number of female workers take advantage of it for fear of being perceived as weak. Companies fear that female workers who don’t get debilitating pain will take advantage of the menstrual leave – the same can be said about sick leave. That is not a reason to penalize most menstruators who suffer from painful or heavy periods.

We need to talk openly about periods at work and drive change

Menstrual leave is one of the many ways in which female workers can be supported during their periods but it’s not the only way. Encouraging conversations around periods in the workplace will push leaders to implement innovative and flexible policies that allow female workers to integrate periods into their work schedules without feeling stigmatised. 

Some of the immediate workplace changes that menstruating people can benefit from include proving free period products, managing employees’ stress through the introduction of mindfulness classes or more relaxing working environments, introducing policies that protect menstruators from discrimination, and providing female employees with comprehensive health insurance policies.”

Thanks to Dr Fatumina Abukar for sharing this article and addressing the topic of period stigma in the workplace. This IWD, we’re calling on employers to #Breakthebias by taking steps to support menstrual wellbeing in the workplace. You can take a first step, by providing free period products in employee bathrooms.

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