CONFIRMED: Spain will have Europe’s first paid ‘menstrual leave’

MPs in Spain's Parliament on Thursday voted through a bill granting paid medical leave to women who suffer from severe period pain, becoming the first European country to advance such legislation.

About a third of women who menstruate suffer from severe pain, according to the Spanish Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society.(Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

Spain’s left-wing government said the legislation –which passed its first reading by 190 votes in favour to 154 against and five abstentions — was aimed at breaking a taboo on the subject.

Menstrual leave is currently offered only in a small number of countries across the globe, among them Japan, Indonesia and Zambia.

In May, the legislation was approved by the Spanish cabinet and now that it has received the go-ahead in the Spanish Parliament, it will now go to the Senate. If changed, will return to the lower house for another vote before becoming law.

The legislation entitles workers experiencing period pain to as much time off as they need, with the state social security system — not employers — picking up the tab for the sick leave.

As with paid leave for other health reasons, a doctor must approve the temporary medical incapacity.

Equality Minister Irene Montero hailed the move as a step forward in addressing a health problem that has been largely swept under the carpet until now.

“We are recognising menstrual issues as part of the right to health and we are fighting against both the stigma and the silence,” she said.

Montero belongs to the hard-left Podemos, the junior partner in Spain’s Socialist-led coalition, which has been the driving force behind the law.

Although the initial draft said women would have access to sick leave “without limit”, there was no mention of that in the text passed on Thursday.

About a third of women who menstruate suffer from severe pain, according to the Spanish Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society.

However, the proposal has created divisions among both politicians and unions, with the UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, warning it could stigmatise women in the workplace and favour the recruitment of men.

The bill also bolsters access to abortion services in public hospitals, a right which remains fraught with difficulties in a country with a strong Catholic tradition.

It also ends the requirement for minors of 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent before having an abortion.

Spain has taken a leading role in advancing women’s rights, passing Europe’s first law against domestic violence in 2004, and its current cabinet boasts more women than men.

READ MORE: What you need to know about Spain’s plan to change its abortion laws

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A tale of two rallies: Women’s Day in Spain shows deep feminism divisions

Rival Women's Day rallies in several Spanish cities on Wednesday showcased divisions in Spain's feminism movement and its government coalition over recent controversial gender legislation.

A tale of two rallies: Women's Day in Spain shows deep feminism divisions

Rallies held across Spain for International Women’s Day (referred to simply as ‘8M’ in Spanish) on March 8th have revealed deep divisions within Spanish feminism, the governing coalition, and the country at large.

The divisions stem from the raft of controversial legislation pushed by the PSOE-Podemos coalition over the last year, including a gender recognition law and the backfiring ‘Solo sí es sí’ sexual consent law that accidentally led to the release of rapists and reduced the sentences for hundreds of sexual convicts.


In certain cities, including Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, Valladolid y León, there were even two separate marches: one organised by the 8M Commission, a movement with strong ties to Podemos and Equality Minister Irene Montero, the ideological driving force behind much of the legislation, and the other by Madrid’s feminist group Movimiento Feminista de Madrid.

Some protestors at the Movimiento Feminista de Madrid march called for Montero’s resignation, and 2023 is actually the second year that different factions within the feminist movement have held different M8 rallies.

It should be said that thousands of women also took to the streets across Spain in Bilbao, Cádiz, Huelva, Logroño, Mérida, Palma, Segovia or Zaragoza, in one unified march.

PSOE government ministers hold a banner during a demonstration marking the International Women’s Day in Madrid on March 8, 2023. Photo: Thomas COEX/AFP

Controversial legislation

Gender legislation, something that has been at the forefront of Montero’s policy agenda in the year since, including the bitterly contested Ley de Trans, has deepened the divides in both the feminist movement and government.

Though recently passed abortion legislation, which introduced menstrual leave and made accessing abortions in public hospitals easier, has been widely supported, the gender recognition bill passed last year has deeply divided feminists. 

READ ALSO: CONFIRMED: Spain will have Europe’s first paid ‘menstrual leave

Supporters of the bill, which effectively makes changing gender an administrative rather than health or legal matter, view it as a progressive step forward. Some more traditional feminists, however, view it as regressive and anti-women. In the M8 march in Madrid, protestors from the Movimiento Feminista de Madrid carried banners saying: ‘M8 is for women.’

Protestors hold banners during a students demonstration marking the International Women’s Day in Barcelona on March 8, 2023. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

Political divisions

Divisions have also emerged at the political level. Faced with the backlash from the ‘Solo sí es sí’ law and controversy over gender recognition, splits between Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE and its junior coalition partner, Unidas Podemos, have widened.

These were highlighted once again, the day before 8M, when PSOE voted in support of amendments to the sexual consent law, siding with opposition parties rather than their coalition partner.

READ ALSO: How Spain is trying to fix its new trouble-ridden sexual consent law

Spain’s Minister for Economy and Digital Transformation, Nadia Calviño, said in the Spanish press this week that she “regretted that there are disputes” within government, adding that “it seems there are divisions that are incomprehensible to society as a whole” with regards to reforming the law.

She did, however, describe the Trans Law as “positive and necessary” and called for unity.

Feminist country

An Ipsos study released the week of M8 found that Spain is the ‘most feminist country’ in Europe. After polling people in 32 countries, Spain came out on top as the country most supportive and aware of equal rights between men and women.

Over half of Spaniards (53 percent) identify as “feminist”: a 9 percent increase on five years ago (44 percent). For context, in Portugal this figure is 46 percent, and in France 45 percent.

In Spain, just 36 percent of respondents polled said they did not identify as feminists.

True though this may be, and as strong as the feminist movement is in Spain, as this week’s M8 protests have demonstrated, it’s certainly not without its internal fissures. As calls for reforms to recent legislation intensifies, expect these divides to further deepen, particularly at the political level as Spain edges towards a general election at the end of the year.

READ ALSO: Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?