#14 Period policies: Exploring the debate on menstrual leave | WeAreSTS

WeAreSTS - A Podcast from UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS), hosted by Professor Joe Cain.

As someone who prides herself on being interested in women’s health and progress related to it, Sofia Sancho still had no idea what “menstrual leave” was when it suddenly was all over the news earlier this spring. Menstruation is a regular physiological phenomenon, happening to the vast majority of people with uteruses. Many people manage their periods just fine, but for some they can be extremely debilitating. For them, being able to take some extra days off work every month to manage symptoms can be a big relief. However, the policies have received a lot of critique. They can be difficult for companies to adopt in a viable way, and researchers worry that the sociocultural norms and stigmas that exist surrounding menstruation will lead to the policies doing more harm than good.


In the episode, Sofia invites you to join her on a deep dive into the world of menstrual health policies, as she explores the debate surrounding them. Why are they important? Why are they so controversial and debated? And how is any of this related to STS?

Sofia dearly thanks her guests Ms Lorren Rea and Dr Shema Tariq for helping her on this quest.

This episode was a project in the STSNewsRoom 2022.

Want to learn more about menstrual leave?

This literature is cited in the episode.

Ahn, J., Lee, S.H., Park, M.Y., Oh, S.H. and Lee, W. (2021). The Association Between Long Working Hours and Infertility. Safety and Health at Work. doi:10.1016/j.shaw.2021.07.005

Barnack-Tavlaris, J.L., Hansen, K., Levitt, R.B. and Reno, M. (2019). Taking leave to bleed: Perceptions and attitudes toward menstrual leave policy. Health Care for Women International, 40(12), pp.1355–1373. doi:10.1080/07399332.2019.1639709

Elsesser, K. (2022). Spain May Legislate Menstruation Leave—Do Women Still Need Their Periods? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2022/05/18/spain-may-legislate-menstruation-leave-do-women-still-need-their-periods/?sh=176190cf4f8d

Fitzsimmons, C. (2019). Menstrual leave the new ‘woke’ workplace right. The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace/menstrual-leave-the-new-woke-workplace-right-20190815-p52hlc.html

Francis, A. (2022). Could ‘menstrual leave’ change the workplace? www.bbc.com. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20220426-could-menstrual-leave-change-the-workplace

Haupt, A. (2022). Menstrual leave: Why some companies are offering time off for periods Image without a caption By Angela Haupt. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2022/05/25/menstrual-leave-spain-paid-benefits/

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/. (2017). Menstruation and Menstrual Problems. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/menstruation#

Ilič, M. (1999). Provision for ‘Menstrual Leave’. In: Women Workers in the Soviet Interwar Economy. Studies in Russian and East European History and Society. London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9780230375567_7?noAccess=true

Levitt, R.B. and Barnack-Tavlaris, J.L. (2020). Addressing Menstruation in the Workplace: The Menstrual Leave Debate. In: C. Bobel, I.T. Winkler, B. Fahs, K.A. Hasson, E.A. Kissling and T. Roberts, eds., The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_43

Price, H.H. (2022). Periodic leave: an analysis of menstrual leave as legal workplace benefit. Oklahoma Law Review, 74(2). https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/oklrv74&div=13&id=&page=

Reuters (2022). In Europe’s first, Spain aims to introduce paid menstrual leave. Reuters. 17 May. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/europes-first-spain-aims-introduce-paid-menstrual-leave-2022-05-17/

www.cdc.gov. (2021). Work Schedule – Reproductive Health | NIOSH | CDC. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro/workschedule.html

Yonkers, K.A., O’Brien, P.S. and Eriksson, E. (2008). Premenstrual syndrome. The Lancet, 371(9619), pp.1200–1210.  doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(08)60527-9


Reporter and original research

  • Sofia Sancho


  • Ms Lorren Rea, Head of Employment Policy at UCL
  • Dr Shema Tariq.  Clinical Research Fellow/ Honorary Consultant in Sexual Health and HIV


  • Professor Joe Cain, Professor of History and Philosophy of Biology

Also in the break

  • Beatrice Han

Music credits

Intro and Exit music

  • “Rollin At 5,” by Kevin MacLeod
    License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

Music within the episode

Podcast information

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WeAreSTS producer is Professor Joe Cain.

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