We mentioned the Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) menstrual policy in our blog Bleeding From Home and we thought further exploration of how it came to be might satisfy those of you who want to know more.
In mid-2013, the VWT began a research project which would become the publication About Bloody Time: The Menstrual Revolution We Have To Have. We wanted to explore the lived experiences, central issues and what would it take to see the end of the stigma, negativity and disconnect which seems to still cast a long shadow over the narrative around menstruation and menopause. An online survey of 3,460 people aged 12 – 80+ (across Australia and globally) as well as 22 discussion groups across Victoria gave us valuable insights.
These survey results were still being processed quietly in the background when the practical ramifications were brought into sharp focus. It all started quickly – a new staff member who had only been with us for three weeks announced mid-morning that she had her period, was doubled over in pain and couldn’t stay at work. We all know that menstruation is not a sickness and it made no sense for her to take sick leave. So where did this obvious and urgent need sit in our workplace policies? We could see that a new policy around employee’s menstrual experience was clearly needed. This soon came into being with strong support from VWT leadership.
In developing the policy we had a wealth of knowledge from our research to draw on showing us that this employee’s experience was indicative of something much more widespread. What we knew instinctively could be quantified with evidence. We were encouraged by our survey results showing that 58 per cent of respondents said that a day off to rest would make their period a better experience every month. Also, 26 per cent of those who had gone through menopause said that being able to take time off when needed would have helped their transition. 24 per cent of those surveyed also said that being able to ask for what they need from their employer would make their period a better experience.
Having to lie about the real cause of your pain or discomfort reinforces the idea that menstruation is a negative thing rather than a fact of life. In our research, 52 per cent of respondents aged 12-18 said that not having to make an excuse when feeling unwell would make their period a better experience. Research at Western Sydney University has similarly found that women and girls just “soldiered on” at work, uni and school rather than revealing their experience with a dip in productivity.
The VWT’s menstrual policy provides the possibility of working from home; the opportunity to stay in the workplace under circumstances which encourage the comfort of the employee, eg. resting or working in a quiet area; or the option of taking a day’s paid menstrual leave. The difference that this menstrual leave has made to us as employees of the VWT is that we have the choice of working with the rhythms and needs of our bodies when we are menstruating rather than feeling the need to downplay or ignore our experience. The policy helped us feel more empathetic and supportive of each other in the workplace and of our lived experiences of menstruation and menopause.
Many of the objections to menstrual workplace policies are along the lines of “it’s unfair”, “women will take advantage of the policy” and “stop singling out women as being different”. All of this reinforces ideas that the lived experiences of women are not valid; they need to prove their worth to have a seat at the table; and need to act like men to succeed in the workplace. That menstrual policies bestow privilege on women is a concept we need to contest and dispense with.
On the Trust’s menstrual policy, Chalice Foundation founder Jane Bennett said: ‘This sends a clear, strong message that menstruation and menopause are normal, it is appreciative that the associated symptoms can be difficult, and that self-care at these times, as needed, is supported and valued. More widely applied, I’m confident that this will lead to happier – and at least equally productive-workplaces.’
“Progressive workplaces which are prepared to embrace and practice diversity policy need to take the menstrual policy step. Menstrual policies matters. Accept the realities of your employees’ health and well-being; choose to respond positively; and enjoy the consequential workplace benefits.”
– Mary Crooks AO, Executive Director, VWT
Click here to read about the VWT’s menstrual policy and how you can adopt it in your workplace.
This is an edited version of a piece published on the Victorian Women’s Trust journal and can be read here.
Casimira Melican is the Research & Advocacy Officer and Project Manager of About Bloody Time at the Victorian Women’s Trust and has been co-editing The Leak with Jane Bennett since April 2020. Casimira has a Masters in International Relations from the University of Melbourne with a focus on policy, human rights and international governance. In 2016, Casimira co-wrote the VWT’s menstrual and menopause workplace wellbeing policy (also know as the menstrual leave policy) and has been leading advocacy on the policy since then. Casimira is passionate about the ability for policy and research to have real world impact and empower women, trans and gender diverse individuals within our society.