What Is Menstrual Leave and Why Is It Important?

მედია აპრილი / ნატალია ავალიანი

“I have dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, and my periods have been painful from the beginning, since I was 14 years old. It was much more painful as a child than it is now. That’s because I have learned to manage it. I spent many years knowing that it was normal to live in such pain. This includes fainting, nausea, agonizing pain, during which I will do anything to stop the pain. I don’t have the ability to think at all,” says Vero Melua, a feminist activist who shares her experience with menstruation with us.

Vero’s menstrual pain is especially aggravated under stress, and walking and, in general, movement during this pain is almost impossible for her. At the age of 27, each month is no longer as difficult for her as before, although the first day of menstruation is always difficult, both emotionally and physically.

“Recently, I went to the pharmacy on the first day of my period to buy painkillers. I could not go back. I called my friend to ask. I was losing my mind, I don’t remember how I crossed the road. I was squatting, she found me, and took me home, because I couldn’t get up on my own,” Vero recalls.

Vero’s experiences with menstrual leave vary—some good, some terrible. According to her, the sensitivity towards this issue is mainly found in feminist organizations. In Vero’s experience, in organizations like this, saying she couldn’t go to work because of her period was normal and no one had a problem with it. However, due to the influence of other bad experiences, she was so traumatized that she gone to the office at least several times during her period. As for the bad experience, it happened in one of the creative industry agencies.

“There, embarrassment because of menstruation happened in a group chat. At that time, the active period of the pandemic had just ended, and everyone was very often writing about working remotely. That’s how I wrote, and when the manager asked me why I couldn’t be there, we had a meeting today, I wrote the reason. Then all this started, that if you had painful menstruation, you should have said it during the interview and we would make a decision based on that. He made me go to the office. He told me that he wouldn’t postpone the work he had scheduled for that day because of me, and it was my problem if I didn’t come,” Vero tells us.

Menstrual Leave in Georgia — Law and Practice

In Georgia, menstrual leave is not legalized and is not considered part of labor rights. In some organizations, even though menstrual leave is not included in the form of a policy document, there is a bylaw or verbal agreement that people who are menstruating can use menstrual leave during this time of the month. Such a reservation is, of course, informal.

When talking about menstrual leave, it is important to clarify that not all menstruating people need to take leave every month. People in favor of menstrual leave laws say they should be able to take days off from their jobs if needed, which will be paid for. Establishing menstrual leave is based on this idea — it is necessary to be able to use it when we need it.

“It may be funny to some, but sometimes I can’t get out of bed, I can’t get dressed, and it’s hard for me to take care of myself. On such days, it is unimaginable to go to work and think about additional work, but I have to”, — Anna.

However, it is important to clarify that menstrual leave does not mean only taking days off from work on the days of bleeding. Menstrual leave may also be used by people with PMDD during PMS. For some, menstrual leave has this very positive side.

Premenstrual syndrome is a combination of emotional and physical symptoms and occurs shortly before the beginning of menstruation, usually in a week or two.

Mood swings, fatigue, irritability, depression, appetite changes, sleep problems, anxiety, and other symptoms are emotional characteristics of PMS, while bloating, back and headache pain, water retention, etc. can be considered physical signs of PMS.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS and has a serious impact on the lives of people living with this diagnosis. In both PMS and PMDD, symptoms of the disorder typically appear two weeks before the onset of bleeding. PMDD is such a serious medical problem that among people with PMDD, 15% have attempted suicide, according to a Harvard Medical Press study.

The respondent of Aprili Media, conditionally, Anna, who preferred to remain anonymous, tells us that for her, the bleeding process and the days of menstruation are relatively easier to go through than for other women, although her experience is different during PMS. Anna talks to us not about the physical pain, but about the emotional symptoms of PMS and explains that for her and some other people, the PMS period is very difficult to get through.

“Menstruation days for me are not as physically painful as for other women. On the days of my period, I can work and do without restriction what I would do on other days. But PMS is a different story. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and their symptoms worsen during PMS, making it difficult for me to do everyday things. It may sound funny to some, but sometimes I can’t get out of bed, I can’t get dressed, and it’s hard for me to take care of myself. On days like these, it’s unimaginable to go to work and think about extra work, but I have to. I work in the service sector and they do not accept menstrual leave. If they did, I would definitely use it for a few days during PMS,” Anna tells us.

The practice of menstrual leave has been established in the women’s rights organization Sapari since the beginning of 2023. According to the deputy executive director of the organization, Natia Gvritishvili, these vacation days are also paid and the persons employed in their organization can use 3 days a month for this. This practice is regulated by the internal regulations of the organization and all employees are informed.  In Sapari, in general, it is not necessary for the employee to go to work every day, during the scheduled working hours. Therefore, even without this regulation, anyone could use menstrual leave. However, the organization decided that employees having to explain every time why they would not be at a particular location could be an additional barrier.

“Employees would have to talk about their health every time, which may not be pleasant for some. Therefore, according to this regulation, they use their days more calmly and freely”, says Natia.

According to Natia, women who are struggling with specific diseases need a menstrual leave. For example, endometriosis.

Dysmenorrhea is a pulsating or spasmodic pain caused by menstruation, and in endometriosis, tissue similar to the lining of the uterus, the endometrial core, is formed in a foreign place. Severely painful menstruation, pain during sex, diarrhea and constipation during menstruation, fatigue and having an irregular menstrual cycle – this is not a complete list of symptoms of endometriosis.

“Us, women are like that – neither having menstruation nor not having it is forgiven! There is nothing in our reproductive system, apart from giving birth to a child, that we are forgiven by the rest of society,” — Vero.

“We should start by saying the word “menstruation” in the country and make menstrual hygiene, which is quite expensive, accessible. This whole issue is so taboo that I don’t think it is relevant to ask for menstrual leave directly. However, of course, it would be good if the state were to regulate everywhere”, Natia says.

Menstrual leave is similarly established in local queer-feminist organizations. For example, ” Women Engage for a Common Future”, “Equality Movement”, “Women’s Initiatives Support Group” (WISG), etc.

According to Vero Melua, the country is not ready to legalize menstrual leave, and one of the reasons for this is the lack of political will.

“Not just this, but there is no political will for such things, that violence and rape are legalized in the country, unless you are beaten. With this background, it is ridiculous to talk about the political will for menstrual leave.”

The activist thinks that today our state, like almost all countries, is tailored to man’s desires, interests and needs. Therefore, the society does not see such needs of women. According to her, civil society should be strengthened and complex campaigns aimed at raising awareness are needed.

“Our common demands as women should be very clear and distinct. This requires that we be an electorate and that our voice is important,” says Vero.

International Practice

One of the most visible examples of having a menstrual leave practice can be considered Spain. Menstrual leave was legalized in the country at the end of 2022 for women and people who are menstruating.

According to the regulation in Spain, anyone who suffers from severe pain during menstruation will be able to take paid leave, and in order to take paid menstrual leave, you need a doctor’s permission. It should be noted that the cost of the permit is fully covered by the state. In addition, the change will cancel the VAT tax on menstrual products, the purpose of which is to increase availability and make it cheaper.

According to the law, 3 to 5 days of menstrual leave can be taken for those who find it difficult to work during this period because they experience pain, dizziness, nausea and any other symptoms caused by menstruation.

In addition to paid menstrual leave, the Spanish law aims to decriminalize abortion, strengthen sex education in schools, and provide free distribution of contraceptives and menstrual hygiene products.

After the adoption of the law, Spain became the first European country to provide menstrual leave with this act. Paid menstrual leave is also allowed in various Asian countries, namely South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia. Japan has had a menstrual leave for over 70 years, while South Korea legalized it in 1953.

In the first periods of legalization of menstrual leave in Japan, many women, namely 26%, used it. However, with the passage of time, the number of women exercising this right is decreasing. For example, according to a survey conducted in 2017, only 0.9% of employed women use menstrual leave.

The demand for using menstrual leave is also decreasing in South Korea: if in a 2013 survey, 23.6% of South Korean women used this option, by 2017 this figure had dropped to 19.7%.

According to a CNN article , the decline in menstrual leave use may have several reasons. First of all, the lack of access to information about menstrual leave as a labor right. According to Yumiko Murakami, head of the Tokyo Center of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), companies usually do not offer or advertise menstrual leave.

However, according to University of Sydney professor Elizabeth Hill, there is anecdotal evidence that in the West, younger women and men are more receptive to menstrual leave than older ones. This also applies to older women who are against menstrual leave. According to them, since this practice was not established in their youth and they suffered from pain during their periods while working, women younger than them should follow the same path.

It is also important to note that although all employers in Japan are required to allow women to use menstrual leave when they need it, companies on the other hand are not required to compensate women for working during this period of the month.

There is an opinion that, on the one hand, companies are trying to make a political statement by promoting women’s issues and using the so-called wokefishing identify themselves as feminists, but on the other hand, they don’t want to make those vacation days unpaid, which makes them completely lack sensitivity. What does this indicate?

Wokefishing – an attempt by people to pretend to be a supporter of progressive political ideologies.

Performative feminists only consider feminist issues superficially and engage in its understanding and discussion. They often focus on themselves in discussions where their opinions are neither needed nor wanted.

Menstruation and Accompanying Diseases

“Living with Endometriosis” is the name of Nat Natenadze’s project, which is not only for women with endometriosis, but also about them, and includes a Facebook group with a support function, as well as a blog (endo.ge) about endometriosis and its management, which works to raise awareness.

Endo.ge has existed for 3 years and I manage it alone. This year (for the second time) I received funding from the “Women’s Fund” in order to create additional content and have more Georgian-language resources on the Internet. This is my goal – when women google the diagnosis, they will find decent information in Georgian, which they deserve, and not – the myths told by unqualified doctors, which are unfortunately a lot about this disease”, – says Nat.

“The concept of menstrual leave does not include lying on the beach, but is rather a bulletin with a different name”, – Nat.

According to Nat, endometriosis is a poorly researched disease and medicine does not have deep knowledge about it. Accordingly, there are many myths surrounding this issue, which are normalized in society. Nat says that painful periods are not the norm, and in fact, endometriosis is very common, which helps to perpetuate the myth. A disease whose symptoms ruin your quality of life cannot be the norm.

“I have often met doctors in Georgian health care, who are not only sensitive to this disease, but also have very little or very old information, which leaves many women behind. This is both wrong and unfair. It is important for me to speak out about this topic because I want to give a voice to as many women as possible, around whom the myth of pain and a devastating disease is built, and to explain and make them understand that they are not alone, there are many of us such women and we are constantly looking for ways to manage this disease and that these symptoms are only The disease is within the limits of normality and not femininity,” says Nat.

Vero, like many women, suffers from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) before bleeding.

Premenstrual syndrome is a combination of emotional and physical symptoms and occurs shortly before the onset of menstruation, usually in the week or two.

Mood swings, fatigue, irritability, depression, appetite changes, sleep problems, anxiety, and other symptoms are emotional characteristics of PMS, while bloating, back and headache pain, water retention, etc. can be considered physical signs of PMS.

“I don’t have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), but I do have PMS that is quite depressing and physically debilitating, not because of the pain, but because of the emotional background, which is very heavy and every time I think I’m going to get depressed. You get used to it over the years — I got used to it and now I know what’s happening to me and I know it will end. That’s why I find some strength to work and be capable during that period”, Vero tells us.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS and has a serious impact on the lives of people living with this diagnosis. In both PMS and PMDD, symptoms of the disorder typically appear two weeks before the onset of bleeding. PMDD is such a serious medical problem that among people with PMDD, 15% have attempted suicide, according to a Harvard Medical Press study.

Symptoms of PMDD include crying, reduced energy levels, loss of interest in favorite activities, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness, and others, while physical symptoms during the luteal phase (when PMDD is active) include changes in appetite, disruption of the usual sleep schedule; At this time, breasts are swollen and sensitive; Pain in the head, back, joints and muscles begins.

In Nat’s opinion, limiting employer leave to 3 days is not helpful anyway, and there are multiple needs not only for people diagnosed with endometriosis, but also for those with other complications or co-morbidities.

“The girls at school talked about it several times, but always in whispers and hiding. It was a shame to talk about it”, — Anna.

“There are many diseases related to menstruation, which cause various complications and discomfort. These needs, among women with various chronic diseases, are often expressed in a hybrid work model, more doctor visits, better insurance conditions, and more, rather than isolating these problems in 3 day. Much more sensitivity is needed on the part of employers and the public towards endometriosis.

It is a chronic disease, like, diabetes, for example, with the difference that it is common only in women at birth. If for this we need to consider menstrual leave as a part of the right to work and thus create a dialogue related to menstruation, to destroy stereotypes, so be it, but until then employers should at least take some steps against menstrual poverty and provide employees with hygiene products,” she says.


Menstruation is a taboo subject for much of society and leads to many different stereotypes, misinformation and myths. For example, the popular belief that menstruating women and men are “unclean” has roots in religion. As a rule, such stereotypes are especially strong in countries where the influence of religious institutions is higher than average. Georgia is among such countries.

According to Vero, a woman’s image the way religions, and not only Orthodoxy see it, men as superior and women as inferior, is unacceptable. In a secular state, religion and belief should be separated from law and justice, and this should be the primary focus of public awareness raising. Vero believes that it doesn’t matter what religion tells you about women, and it shouldn’t affect our public life, law, and justice.

“We know that religion has a great influence on the majority of the country and forms many opinions and attitudes, which then come out in public. The only answer to this is to normalize menstruation. This religious misinformation, I would call it, is based on the fact that there is no opposite and counterbalanced knowledge. Only religious knowledge remains and stigma is created,” says Vero.

In society, they do not talk about bleeding and the processes that take place in the body at this time. As a result, many pharmacists sell sanitary products to consumers in non-transparent packaging, and on the other hand, consumers also try to keep their voices down when they want to buy sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups, or any similar types of product.

“I think that when we are menstruating, we should tell our brothers, fathers, classmates, boyfriends that we are menstruating and it bothers us. For example, I have a 16-year-old brother, and he knows exactly what happens during menstruation. He has written me that his classmate is menstruating and what he can buy to make her day easier,” says Vero.

In addition to the myths created by religion, which create many barriers, in some cases menstruation is considered a degrading circumstance rather than a biological fact. As a result, many people, including those who menstruate, think that it makes them weaker or less than men. At the same time, it is important to introduce it to the discourse of the neoliberal order, which is supported by the capitalist-patriarchal regime and which convinces us that it is necessary to be in constant competition with each other in order to achieve the typical “success” prescribed by the society and to be able to be employed in high positions. According to this view, it may not be acceptable for employers to refuse to work a few days a month. With that in mind, menstrual leave oppresses those who menstruate.

Nat Natenadze says that the only thing that oppresses her as a woman with endometriosis is endometriosis itself.

“Endometriosis greatly spoils my quality of life, and fighting this disease is depressing and annoying enough. Perhaps/hopefully, no one will tell a person with diabetes that it is an expression of physical weakness if they needs to visit a doctor more often than others,” says Nat.

Vero Melua, like Nat, fundamentally disagrees with the opinion that we should perceive women’s weakness as their own physiological state, which they cannot change. According to Vero, everyone should once and for all understand and get used to the fact that women have periods and that for many of them this experience is painful and, of course, it affects their performance, including at work. The fact that Vero is menstruating and is incapacitated for 2-3 days in no way diminishes her and her knowledge, competence and professionalism, and for those who diminish it, in Vero’s opinion, those people should not be in managerial positions, because they are not competent in assessing who and what. How can he do it?

“Cultural shock, which is especially on the part of male managers, should end as if they’ve had no contact with a woman and do not know that a woman can have menstruation. I think it’s also necessary to ease the stigma around menopause. Us, women are like that – we are neither forgiven for having menstruation nor for not having it! There is nothing in our reproductive system, other than having children, that we are forgiven by the rest of society.

People with other health problems don’t have to have awkward conversations with their bosses. If I break my leg, or, say, I have a bone problem, it’s easier to explain to my boss than the fact that I’m on my period. I don’t have to worry about how to ask for time off and leave when I’m sick and it’s something that happens every month that I can’t help. Endometriosis is a chronic disease. Science and medicine could not change anything. Thinking about it shouldn’t be my monthly obligation,” says Vero.

Anna recalls that the chapters on menstruation and women’s reproductive health were simply skipped in biology classes. She says that they talked about “these topics” in a quiet voice and avoided showing any product associated with menstruation.

“I didn’t know much about menstruation. Not much, in fact, I didn’t know anything. I was the only girl, I had one brother, and there were only boys in my family. Therefore, I could not rely on the experience of my cousins ​​or aunts. My mother did not talk to me about menstruation, sex and such things. I had some ideas about these topics from school. We girls at school have talked about it a few times, but always in whispers and in secret. It was a shame to talk about it.

When I found blood stains on my underwear, I was shocked, but I couldn’t go to my mother because of fear. I thought I had done something wrong and it was my fault what was happening. When I couldn’t stop the flow of blood, only then I went to my mother, also because I didn’t know who else to tell what happened to me. Even then she did not explain anything. She told me that “this” was a rule for women and it would happen to me once a month. I don’t know, maybe she didn’t know much about menstruation herself. One thing is that she didn’t forbid me to ask something, but I still knew that it was a shame to talk about it out loud,” Anna tells us.

In 2020, the organization “Women’s Fund in Georgia” conducted a study on the stigma of menstruation and related rights violations in Georgian public schools. The aim of the project was to study the knowledge about menstruation in schools, the stigma surrounding it, the state of the school infrastructure and their impact on the implementation of girls’ right to sexual and reproductive health and education.

The research clearly confirmed that there is a strong stigma associated with menstruation in society; In addition, stigma creates taboos related to menstruation, which causes girls to feel ashamed and deteriorate both their physical and mental health, as well as the equal access of boys to education. The research shows that the current situation in public schools is hostile, and the environment is insensitive. The study also clearly confirmed that the public schools of Georgia do not play the role of a systematic knowledge transfer actor in relation to education related to sexual reproductive health.

In the satirical essay If Men Could Menstruate, by a feminist activist and journalist Gloria Steinem, we read that if men miraculously menstruated, it would instantly become an enviable, dignified event:

“Men would brag about how long and how much. Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious rituals and stag parties.”