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Sabah-based company introduces menstrual leave

KUALA LUMPUR: A sustainable furniture-making company in Sabah, 'Brutti & Besi' has introduced paid menstrual leave for its employees.

Women employees at Brutti & Besi are entitled to take a day off for period pain every month with no questions asked.

Lukman Awaluddin, 29, who established the company in Oct 2020 said he hoped to instill a culture of trust and acceptance at work, as well as end the stigma surrounding menstruation.

It is also Lukman's hope that other companies will follow suit and adopt a menstrual leave policy, laying the foundation for a nationwide policy. 

"This menstrual leave policy allows women employees to take time off work without being stigmatised, having to make up excuses or feigning sickness. 

"Our goal is to foster trust among employees to make the workplace more productive, efficient, and creative.

"Besides, women should not be ashamed or stigmatised when applying for period leave. Employees should feel comfortable informing their employers that they are on menstrual leave. Why the need to feel embarrassed of having periods, a critical biological function?" he told the New Straits Times.

The NST first reported on menstrual leave for women workforce in Malaysia on May 23, where proponents said it would be a progressive development to enhance women's health rights in the workplace, while critics believed it would be detrimental to women's employment.

On May 24, close to 90 per cent of netizens who participated in the NST poll on Instagram, asking followers whether Malaysia should implement menstrual leave, had voted in favour of it.

Following a series of reports, the Human Resources Ministry on May 30 told the NST that government-linked companies and private firms in Malaysia are encouraged to implement menstrual leave policy on their own without waiting for the government to legislate it.

PERSONAL STRUGGLE

Lukman, who hails from Putatan, Sabah, also shared a personal incident that inspired him to implement the policy and not wait for the government to mandate menstrual leave by law.

   

His wife Siti Faznur Abd Khaleq, 33, who is also his business partner had been suffering from severe menstrual cramps for years, which she was said was 'normal'. 

"At one point, the pain was excruciating that she could hardly carry on with day-to-day tasks. We immediately sought medical advice. 

"It was then we learned that she had uterine fibroid about 10cm in diameter. She really underestimated the pain that she had before. Thankfully, the procedure ended well and we had the fibroid removed and Siti is feeling much better now."

Lukman said it was around the same time, a new employee, Dg Nuriah Anis Abd Majid, 23, contacted him seeking permission to take medical leave. 

Inquiring what was the procedure to apply for one, Nuriah Anis shared that she was having severe period pain, he said. 

"We (my wife and I) just told her to go on unrecorded leave but from the conversations we had with Siti's female friends and her gynaecologist, we learned that many women are actually suffering from menstrual pain albeit at a varying degree of pain. 

"As we discussed with the doctor and nurses during my wife's one week stay in the hospital ward, we began to see menstrual cramps as an actual problem that many people overlook.

"Of course, we didn't blindly jump into this (menstrual leave policy). My wife and I thoroughly researched it and studied the various period leave policies implemented in other countries and organisations."

Lukman said after deciding to introduce menstrual leave, they went through another week discussing implementation, deliberating on how it would affect production, key performance indicators, and possible drawbacks.

"In the end, we decided it would be more beneficial for the company to provide menstrual leave in the long run. As a manager, we need to show our employees that we care about them as well. 

"We will build trust together and rather than working in pain and giving only 30 per cent, employees will be more productive at work when they return.

"Further, requiring an employee to see a doctor just to get a medical certificate (MC) while experiencing period pain makes no sense. What's the point of asking her to drive and sit through the waiting time (at a clinic) to get an MC? She might as well drive to work with that pain.

"Hence, we feel menstrual leave should be viewed separately and exempted from the procedure of taking MC."

MENSTRUAL LEAVE POLICY

From the information and data gathered, Lukman and his wife formulated the company's period leave policy granting employees one day off. Subsequent days off would be recorded as medical leave. 

"For now, employees will simply have to use the system to apply for leave. Hopefully, it will not be abused. But it is a risk we have to take. The second day will be deducted from medical leave. We are still experimenting with the mechanism. 

"Nuriah Anis is in the creative team, so while she is away, I will manage the social accounts and handle enquiries. Moving forward, we are looking at new hires as the business booms," he said.

Brutti & Besi is a team of seven employees, including five artisans and two women employees. They are also entitled to 14 days medical leave per year.

Another 10 employees are expected by year-end, and two women artisans will join the team this month, Lukman said. 

He added that should the menstrual leave implementation run smoothly at Brutti & Besi, he would implement it in his other company, a cleaning company with 100 per cent women employees. 

BOTTOM-UP APPROACH

Lukman said friends, including a friend from the cocoa manufacturing business in Sabah, had approached him about menstrual leave. 

"We hope to inspire others. I will encourage more companies to take this (menstrual leave policy) on as a pilot project to gather more data and so that we have better mechanisms for its implementation.

"Perhaps then, the government can adopt it into national policy. It is not an overnight decision. It must start from businesses, people should understand menstrual disorders and normalise period talks."

MENSTRUAL LEAVE, THE WAY FORWARD

Meanwhile, Nuriah Anis, who works in the creative team, believes women need menstrual leave since menstruation affects women not just physically but also mentally, affecting their productivity and quality of work.

 

"On that day (when I requested a day off for period pain), I reported to work as usual, but in the afternoon I experienced severe pain along with headache so I texted my boss seeking permission to leave early. 

"Well, luckily he approved it. Surprisingly, the next day my boss informed me about menstrual leave. 

"I rarely get period pain, usually just twice or thrice in a year. But when it happens it will be my worst nightmare that I couldn't even get up from bed."

Nuriah Anis, who has to endure fatigue, body ache, diarrhoea and nausea along with severe period pain said she had consulted doctors but was not diagnosed with any menstrual disorders.

"When I have those symptoms, I can't concentrate at work, so I usually have to take MC or request a half-day off.

"Menstrual leave is very beneficial, as we can do their work more efficiently the next day rather than forcing ourselves to do so when we are suffering from severe period pain."

Read more on menstrual health and the call for menstrual leave in Malaysia:

'Menstrual leave, not an admission of weakness' 

Experts call on government to look into menstrual leave policy 

PBM calls on government to consider menstrual leave for women

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