When she was 13 years old riding her bicycle in Jordan a number of years ago, Yara Doleh played with her brother and his friends. But the next day, she wasn’t allowed to do that anymore.
Doleh had started to menstruate.
“After that incident … I was told to play with girls,” Doleh said. “I come from an open-minded family back in the Middle East … but it’s the society that imposes itself on you.”
At the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE) at 255 Bloor St. W. on Nov. 24, Doleh, a freelance academic researcher and archaeologist, led a lecture titled Menstruation and Stigma. She addressed menstruation and its perception from various societies and religions around the world.
Doleh wants to implement a menstruation leave in Canada; it would give women the option of taking a day off work when menstruating.
“A few countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and South Korea have already granted menstruation leave to their female workforce,” she said. “We’re only fighting for one day … and I don’t think it would be costly.”
Angela Lytle, the executive director of Women’s Human Rights Education Institute at CWSE, spent three years teaching in Japan. She explained the way her Japanese colleagues felt about taking time off during their period.
“They felt that if they utilized (the menstrual leave) then it would be construed as part of their female weakness,” Lytle said. “So it’s not that having the leave there automatically means that it’s accessible or that it’s understood.”
In Canada, Lytle thinks menstrual leave should be optional, but not enforced. She said social attitudes would have to change in order to prevent any backlash for taking the day off.
“When you have something on the books, are you going to be stigmatized for using it? Women wanting to take time off to have children experience repercussions in their careers,” she said. “All the guys who are taking paternity leave … find themselves not getting promotions when they come back to work and (there’s) this sort of indirect discrimination against them.”
Amy Sedgwick, co-founder of Red Tent Sisters – an independent, pro-woman boutique and wellness centre at 810 Danforth Ave. – said it’s important that society learns to honour the hormonal differences between men and women.
“(Women) don’t have the same level of hormonal stability that men do,” Sedgwick said. “There are times when women are better at doing particular types of tasks and there are times when they need to rest.”
Throughout her experience, Sedgwick has met a lot of women who suffer from severe symptoms when menstruating. But she explained that poor nutrition could contribute to heavy menstruation and cramping.
“We live in a society where we’re … perpetually eating refined, processed foods that have been stripped of many of their nutrients and often will cause inflammatory issues in the bowels,” she said. “Magnesium is a common deficiency in women that results in difficulty with menstrual cramping … Iron deficiency can lead to excessive bleeding, which can cause a cyclical problem where a woman is low in iron, then she’ll bleed more.”
Although Yara Doleh said she has to do further research before proposing a menstruation leave to the Canadian government, she’s up for the challenge.
“Our bodies need it. Mentally, physically, we need it,“ she said. “It doesn’t have to be total seclusion; it’s just time for yourself, away from the routine … Then you come back fully rejuvenated.”