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The Body@Work Project is a collective of academics and industry leaders who are reimagining the future of embodied work and investigates how workplaces can make radical strides to offer a truly inclusive and supportive experience for all workers. The Body@Work Project is critically examining the responsibility of organisations and employers for workers’ health and wellbeing and potential policy responses and interventions to promote better work-life balance and gender equal labour market outcomes. This week on The Leak, we feature an excerpt from the Body@Work publication on the lastest workshop which Chalice Foundation attended in November 2022. 

The theme of the workshop was the Reproductive Body in Law, Policy and Bargaining and explored how governments, employers and unions are increasingly turning their attention to the body at work and its implications for gender equality and workforce sustainability. The presentations highlighted a range of reproductive health concerns and interventions that require attention in law and workplace policy reform including menstruation, endometriosis, fertility treatment, pregnancy loss and menopause. 

Elizabeth provided important background information and context on the Body@Work Project and theme of the 2022 research network workshop: The Reproductive Body in Law, Policy and Bargaining. Elizabeth explained the theme of the workshop responds to the growing interest of governments, employers and unions in Australia and globally in workplace inequalities related to the reproductive body in a context of rising female workforce participation. This is  reflected, Elizabeth argued, in the rapid rise of public and private sector policies that address a range of reproductive health concerns over the life course such as menstruation, fertility treatment, pregnancy, breastfeeding, pregnancy loss and menopause.  

In Australia, Elizabeth noted these issues have received increased attention from state and federal governments over the past year. In New South Wales, the government introduced paid leave for miscarriage for public sector workers, while also announcing public investments in IVF and fertility treatment services and specialist menopause health services. The former federal Coalition government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison also amended national legislation to include miscarriage as a ground for paid compassionate leave. And in its first Women’s  Budget Statement, the newly elected federal Albanese Labor government included a statement on sexual and reproductive health that acknowledged the impact of  menstruation and menopause on the health, education and workforce participation of women and girls.  

As the reproductive body is increasingly the focus of legal, industrial and public policy, Elizabeth argued it was timely for scholars, unionists and employers to share their research and insights on this important topic. The workshop was an opportunity for academics and professionals from a diverse range of fields and disciplines to discuss legal and policy challenges in this area and pathways forward to help us better support the reproductive health needs of all people, regardless of age or gender. 

“There is growing research evidence that shows that when our workplaces and our public policy settings fail to recognise workers’ physical, and particularly reproductive needs, there can be a negative impact on broader socio-economic and demographic trends and gender equality. And you’ll also know that an increasing body of research  shows how our reproductive health can affect labour force participation at any stage of the life cycle from menstruation to endometriosis, to IVF and fertility treatments,  pregnancy and pregnancy loss, breastfeeding, right through to menopause” 

Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill, Body@Work Convenor

To read more, please visit the Body@Work website and you can download the November report here.

Thank you to our community for reading and contributing to The Leak in 2022, we’ll be taking a break for the rest of December and through January, see you in 2023!

Sydney Colussi

Research Associate, University of Sydney

Sydney has a graduate law degree from the University of Sydney, where she also earned her undergraduate degree in Government and International Relations and Political Economy. She works as a research assosiate at the University of Sydney Business School, with a focus on women, work and care. Sydney is particularly interested in critical feminist theory and is currently coauthoring two journal articles on menstrual leave policies.