Ashley Hubbard got her period at 12 years old. From the start, Hubbard’s periods were “debilitating,” causing her to miss school monthly, and later, work.

“I have passed out at work due to the pain,” Hubbard says. But when using her sick leave during her cycle, Hubbard got pushback from past employers. “I kept saying I felt light-headed and dizzy [at work], and I kept getting asked if I could stick it out. Then, when I did pass out, I felt like a problem and like a ‘how dare [you] pass out and interrupt work’ kind of thing.’”

Hubbard is one of millions of people who menstruate and must navigate their careers, productivity, and pain while on their periods. But paid menstrual leave is more than just an added employment benefit — it’s a worker’s rights issue.

When we shift the conversation from an added benefit to a fundamental worker’s right, paid menstrual leave affirms that workers should not have to choose between getting paid, risking their health, or suffering through illness, discomfort, or pain. Paid menstrual leave is one tangible method to ensure the workplace is more accessible and equitable for all workers.

Paid menstrual leave itself has been a topic of debate for decades, and this summer, Spain may become the first European country to pass mandated menstrual leave, potentially joining nations like South Korea, Japan, and Zambia. But in the United States, there’s resistance to this kind of policy. In a 2017 survey published in the journal Health Care for Women International, half of the 600 respondents believed menstrual leave would have negative impacts, citing concerns that the leave would be abused for other purposes and that such policies would be unfair to non-menstruators.

These concerns are common: Are menstruators receiving unfair benefits? Why can’t menstruators just use normal sick days? Should leave only be allowed with a doctor’s note, proof of severe symptoms, or a diagnosis of endometriosis? Even some feminists are against paid menstrual leave. In 2017, Washington Post columnist Bharka Dutt wrote “I’m a Feminist. Giving Women a Day Off for Their Periods Is a Stupid Idea.” In the piece, Dutt calls a paid menstrual leave proposal in India “paternalistic,” arguing that such a benefit “reaffirms biological determinism in the lives of women” and that the “special treatment” is a disservice to feminism.

But paid menstrual leave isn’t about special treatment, playing the system, or isolating menstruators in the workplace. Menstrual leave simply acknowledges that workers live in bodies with different needs, functions, and experiences — and that working standards must meet the needs of a changing labor force.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 57.4% of all women participated in the labor force in 2019. And since 1970, “women have become more likely to work full-time and year-round.” These stats don’t take into account the Great Resignation spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic, of course. An estimated 48 million people quit their jobs in 2021, most citing low pay, lack of advancement, and disrespect as reasons for leaving their positions. But the Great Resignation isn’t a sign people “don’t want to work” or are getting too picky — it’s a sign that workers won’t settle for untenable conditions.

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