My Celebrity Life

Period pain is always a legitimate reason to take a sick day

My Celebrity Life –
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I was 14 when my mum first picked me up from school for having period pain.

I came on in the middle of Mr Mehta’s biology class and I could feel the blood seeping through my knickers. I wrapped my blazer around my waist – a clear breach of school dress code policy, but a classic safety measure nonetheless – and headed to the nurse’s office to call for backup.

My waddling gait was that of a girl walking carefully enough to hold in the blood, stooped over enough to ease my cramps, but fast enough to get to a sanitary pad before it was too late. Anyone who has had a period knows the walk I’m talking about.

By the time I got into my mum’s car, I was in so much pain that I kicked her glove box and broke its handle. She drove me home, gave me meds, a hot water bottle and put me to bed.

There was no way I could have survived the rest of the day in lessons and there were many other period days that left me in bed, rather than behind a desk.

So when I read this week that a 13-year-old girl was denied authorised absence from school due to period pain, I was as angry as I was unsurprised.

Angry, because it’s 2021 and women’s pain is still continuously ignored and minimised, and unsurprised because it’s 2021 and women’s pain is continuously ignored and minimised.

The girl’s father, Marcus Alleyne, had contacted her school via an automated message system to inform them that his daughter was feeling ‘really rotten’ due to a bad period. But the school then called him back, and allegedly informed him that serious period pain was an ‘unauthorised’ reason for missing school.

It’s easy to presume that it was a male teacher who had written the rules, but the truth is, lack of empathy towards menstrual pain is not limited to men and men alone.

When I was a teenager, I experienced my fair share of shaming, disbelief and hostility from female teachers who thought I needed to push through and simply ‘get on with it’.

No two people experience periods in the same way, nor are one person’s periods consistent, so far be it from any other person to tell you how much pain you are experiencing. I have some months where I barely notice a cramp, then other cycles (like the one I started this morning) where I’m bent over in agony (I wrote some of this on the toilet), struggling to concentrate (this column is taking far longer to write than usual) and feeling exhausted (I had a nap in between these parentheses).

Marcus Alleyne took it upon himself not only to fight his daughter’s corner, but to start a petition calling on dysmenorrhea – severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain during your period – to be recognised as a legitimate reason for absence in schools.

As Alleyne pointed out, if he had said his daughter was suffering from a migraine, then there would have been no questions.

Not only has his petition reached over 60,000 signatures at the time of writing, the comments section is full of praise for the fact that a man has displayed true allyship – not only to women, but to all people who have periods. Alleyne pointed out that by not allowing absence due to dysmenorrhea, schools pose a ‘direct risk’ to women, trans and non-binary students and all pupils who menstruate.

Alleyne is a shining example of a cis man who is using his position to create a platform for others to feel supported and believed. According to a poll in 2019, schoolgirls take an average of three days off per term due to period-related issues. Some due to hygiene poverty and the unavailability of sanitary products, others due to dysmenorrhea.

As if having periods wasn’t enough of a pain in the uterus, some pupils are being punished for having ‘unauthorised’ days off as if they were playing truant, which will go on to affect their attendance record.

In 2007, sports brand Nike introduced menstrual leave for employees who had periods, as they recognised that the pain it caused was a medical condition that did not require a sick note. In 1947, Japan similarly introduced a law that allowed female employees to take days off work if they were experiencing it.

While there is not currently a similar law in the UK, some lawyers argue that dysmenorrhea could be considered a disability, but why should those who menstruate be required to register a disability for a condition that could affect almost 50% of the population?

People who menstruate don’t want any special treatment. We just want to be treated the same as any other person experiencing acute pain, nausea and several days of bleeding.

Despite many campaigns to break the stigma of period-related issues, even when pupils feel empowered enough to talk about their discomfort and have sanitary products provided for them, it does nothing to change the pain they experience.

We must encourage young students to be in tune with their bodies, not in denial of it. At present, it takes around seven years on average to diagnose endometriosis, a condition that is often dismissed by medical professionals as a symptom of menstruation rather than investigated as a serious and debilitating health condition.

Perhaps the diagnostic process could be sped up if we believe young people when they express concern over pain, instead of making them believe it is something they must endure or shaming them into denial of its existence.

It is vital that we support all young people who have uteruses to advocate for themselves and reject authorities who shame them into minimising their suffering for the sake of obedience and a clean attendance record.

Marcus Alleyne is proof that the ability to be sympathetic towards period pain is not limited to those who have experienced it.

But now that a cis man has publicly pointed out a flaw in our education system, perhaps those in power will no longer dismiss dysmenorrhea as simply ‘women’s problems’.

 


Credit: Original article published here.

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