Coexist, a Bristol based community interest company, have become the first in the UK to introduce official time off for periods to their female staff. Women will be given the option of flexible working to allow them to cope with the symptoms of their periods. The aim of the policy is to create a more inclusive and productive workplace, and improve the satisfaction of workers.
When you consider recent studies which compare the pain some women experience around their periods to pain experienced during a heart attack, this makes sense. Workplaces generally don’t expect staff to work while doubled over in pain, but period pain seems to be the exception to this rule.
The issue of downplaying period pain isn’t confined to the workplace. I have suffered with crippling period pain and heavy bleeding since my teenage years. I first visited a doctor when I was 16. Only recently, seven years later, have I been taken seriously. I experienced this stigma from my first period, from the constant paranoia of leaking in a public place to the eye rolls of the school nurse as she had to send me home again. The message was clear, put up and shut up. Period pain is seen as just part of being a woman, something that we should silently endure.
The lack of interest in women’s health is directly affecting our quality of life. Conditions such as endometriosis are underdiagnosed, and even if you are lucky enough to be taken seriously by your doctor treatment options are limited. Most treatments are contraceptive. Alleviating heavy and painful periods is a side effect rather than the aim of the treatment. For women who can’t take the pill options are even more limited. The mirena coil seems to be the new holy grail in the treatment of period pain, but it involves an invasive and painful insertion procedure as well as initial pain and irregular bleeding.
The new policy has the potential to change far more than just the office environment of Coexist. If women begin to feel comfortable discussing the symptoms of their period and taking the necessary time off, it will be impossible to continue ignoring the issue. If more money was invested in women’s healthcare, perhaps we would not have to suffer the pain in the first place. Until then, Coexist have taken an important step in tackling the stigma of menstruation.