Twisted progress in the name of gender sensitivity

Wendy Nyakurerwa Her Point of View —
A new dawn is nigh for Africa and neighbouring Zambia is leading the way. On second thoughts, maybe it is dusk.

The southern African nation’s labour laws dictate that once every month, Zambian women who are on their menstrual periods can call their employers and take a day off work in what they call “Mothers’ Day”.

The “privileged” belles do not even need to make prior arrangements to be absent from work, they can simply call on the day to say they are taking the day off and every other professional engagement should wait. In fact, the women can take the day whenever they want to because they do not have to provide any medical justification.

Now I know that such provisions might sound very attractive to some but I have got strong reservations on the whole thing.

Some legal provisions that are celebrated by most women in the name of gender sensitivity need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

This particular one, having been received by the majority of Zambian women with great applause, projects them as a weaker sex.

I shudder for the day when such ‘progressivism’ will reach our shores, if ever.

For starters, menstruation is the most natural thing for any woman. It happens every month from the moment the woman reaches puberty up until the moment she strikes menopause, unless if she is pregnant.

Actually, she subconsciously looks forward to the menses and when they do not come when expected for unknown reasons, she even gets worried.

Therefore there is absolutely no reason to play the menses up into a huge mountain that would force any woman out of her professional duties. Just like pregnancy, menstruation does not impede women from working.

It is not a disease, neither is it a curse on womanhood.

Apparently the motivation behind the legal instrument, which is also in place in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan as well as some parts of China; is the fact that women suffer from period pain and therefore should be allowed to take the day off as they seek medication and rest at home.

That is absurd.

While menstrual period pain is a reality in most women, with research suggesting that it affects about nine out of 10 women, severe period pain, whose medical term is secondary dysmenorrhea, only affects an estimated one in 10 women during their reproductive years.

Cramping in this population can be so painful that they can’t even get up and walk, a few have compared the pain to the contractions of childbirth. Therefore only 10 percent of women genuinely need some time off work during the start of their menses.

These individuals’ physical, mental, and social well-being is impacted by the severe pain, potentially affecting their ability to go to school or work at least one day in a month.

Therefore the legal provision which gives the privilege to all the women is open to abuse by the remaining 90 percent who might be very fit for work but might choose to exploit the system. It hinges on honesty, which in earnest is rare in any society.

But most importantly, a woman in the workplace has a maze of social issues to navigate; she needs to pay extra consideration to how she talks, how she dresses, even how she asks for a raise.

Covertly reminding her male colleagues about her painful monthly bleeding catastrophe might not be such a good idea as this might put her at an unnecessary disadvantage.

The work environment is highly competitive, a survival of the fittest. How then is the menstruating woman who has the leisure of moping around the house every time her menses commence ever going to catch up?

And then there is the issue of compromising productivity. How is the company that has had, say five of its female employees, waking up and deciding to take Mother’s Day, going to fill in that wide gap?

It is very common for a group of women, especially those who spend considerable lengths of time together at work, to have synced menstrual cycles.

Is it far-fetched therefore, to assume that as time goes on and the said company starts to feel the impact of the menstrual leave days, is going to resort to recruiting male employees who are in this case “more reliable” as they will never call in sick because of periods.

The loaded question here is — is menstrual leave a sign of progress, or simply a mode of patriarchy that is being clandestinely sold to unsuspecting women?

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