Earlier this year, 25-year-old Claudette Ineza went to work as usual. She knew her menstrual cycle may start on one of those days because she had experienced cramps for around two weeks, which happens all the time. Unfortunately, at least on her side, her period started several hours before her time to check out of work – 5:00p.m. She knows exactly what to expect on her first day of the period, but this time, she decided to wait only for a few hours until time. Within one hour, the pain had become unbearable and she burst into tears, her supervisors told her to go home. On her typical first day of the period, she has intense abdominal and lower back pain. Sometimes, her legs shake and she cannot stand. “I also get so emotional and cry all the time. Sometimes, I don’t want to eat,” she said. Ineza has learned not to take the risk and leave home when she gets her period, but this has cost her the supervisors’ trust. She is convinced they think she is lazy and doesn’t want to work. “I used to call and say I couldn’t make it, but they kept wondering why me. They wonder how of all women at work, I am the only one who calls every month to say I can’t make it. I have now decided to make up different reasons every month. I don’t want them to think it’s a song in their ears,” Ineza added. Certa Foundation, a local NGO, is championing debates – around women such as Ineza to access menstrual leave in Rwanda – aimed at influencing the enactment of a new policy around this in the labour law. In different countries and companies that already have this policy in place, workers who experience painful menstrual symptoms are allowed options for remote work and a set number of paid leave days every year on top of federally mandated sick leave. Their concern is that those with severe symptoms are punished for the reality of their own bodies, and their careers suffer, while menstruation is simply a part of being female, as opposed to an illness or injury. Shaki Mukiza, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Certa Foundation, told The New Times that women who can also work from home may find comfort in this leave because their productivity has a possibility to increase since they can get rest, medicate and do a portion of their work simultaneously. “However, working from home cannot be prioritised over the well-being of an employee but rather making it mandatory for women to have at least 1 to 2 days of leave with the exception of being able to work from home if and when physically capable,” she noted. Menstrual cramps, medically known as ‘dysmenorrhea’ are throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen. Many women have menstrual cramps just before and during their menstrual periods. While menstrual cramps vary from one person to another, they are among the leading causes of pain for women of reproductive age. Some people also experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fainting, or headaches. Countless women have resorted to dependence on pain medication such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, although some develop a resistance to these medicines even in their early twenties, leaving no other option but to endure the pain. “When you are home, you can make yourself lots of tea, or place a hot towel on your abdomen to ease the pain. You can also lie on the floor, or take some rest depending on how you are feeling. These are things you cannot do at work,” Ineza noted. In their essay ‘Paid Period Leave for Australian Women: A Prerogative Not a Pain’, Gabrielle Golding and Tom Hvala show that women with menstrual-related issues may be forced to work part-time, and in some instances, give up their job entirely. They also cite reports which indicate that menstrual-related symptoms are a key cause of employee absenteeism. “14 per cent of women report absenteeism during their menstrual periods. The mean absenteeism due to a woman’s menstrual cycle is 1.3 days per year. When absent from work, only one-in-five women disclose the reason for taking leave. Moreover, menstrual-related symptoms constitute 24per centt of total absenteeism for women working and studying,” they note. The essay goes on to show that while more than 80 per cent of women reported presenteeism during their period, they also report an average 23.2 days per year of decreased productivity. Nevertheless, without doubting that introducing menstrual leave would be beneficial to those who need it, some people think it would be a step backwards in women’s employment because that would be “too many days” they wouldn’t be working. Benoît, a law student at Kigali Independent University, slightly opposed the idea, saying that some investors may get discouraged to invest in Rwanda because employees have many leave days. “Rwanda needs investors who already claim that we have many leave days. If we add menstrual leave, it will be somehow exaggerated. I think we can use the sick leave we already have and if someone needs extreme medication they can go with the sick leave,” he said. Others argue that it is an invasion of privacy because women may not be comfortable disclosing their menstrual status to their employers. Clément Hagenimana, a resident of Kigali, supports the idea, but also thinks that it may increase prejudice towards female employees because some employers wouldn’t be willing to give up some days off work for their employers. “About being a paid leave or not, should be up to the employers and their employees, depending on whether the worker is working from home or not working at all,” he noted. In a 15-hour Twitter poll by The New Times, asking if a menstrual leave is overdue or unnecessary, 62 per cent of 66 respondents voted for the leave, while 38 per cent voted that it was unnecessary. Countries such as Japan, South Korea and Zambia already have menstrual leave, while Spain and Australia may have it in place by next year. While this may be a new discussion in the country, the country has already made strides in improving female reproductive health. In a move to ease access to menstrual health products, the government of Rwanda in 2019 scrapped VAT on sanitary pads and tampons, although their prices generally remained the same. However, some women still use the traditional piece of cloth to avoid blood leaks, while others have been helped by well-wishers to access reusable washable sanitary pads. Also, a 2022 Ministerial order determines circumstantial leave for people who give birth to a stillborn baby or have a miscarriage, and those whose child dies after birth.