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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Spain’s new Protection of Minors Law: Seven key points

Whether it be stricter age verification protocols, mandatory parental controls or virtual restraining orders, Spain's new Protection of Minors Law is a wide-ranging and ambitious piece of legislation aimed at protecting kids online.

Spain's new Protection of Minors Law: Seven key points

A draft bill for Spain’s new ‘Protection of Minors Law’ has been released and it’s a wide-reaching, ambitious piece of legislation that seeks to protect children in the online world.

Bringing together aspects of health, education and legal policy, the aim of the law is to protect children and teenagers online, “especially the rights to privacy, honour and self-image, secrecy of communications and the protection of personal data and access to age-appropriate content.”

The bill, which is at the draft stage but has been seen by Spanish daily El País, also attempts to address the psychological and emotional damage caused by technology overuse in childhood and adolescence, which experts say include access to pornographic or violent content; disinformation and fake news; dangerous or socially inappropriate behaviour; and damage to physical and mental health, including screen addiction.

READ ALSO: Spain’s Andalusia clamps down on mobiles, vapes and energy drinks for teens

Among the raft of new measures, which will involve health and education policy, as well as legal reform, are online restraining orders, parental safety locks, and treatments for phone and technology addictions.

In Spain children get their first phone at age 11 on average. In terms of usage, 94.8 percent of teenagers in Spain have a mobile phone with internet and 90.8 percent go online every day or almost every day. Half of adolescents use the internet more than five hours a day on weekends, and 98.5 percent of teenagers are registered on a social media platform

Clearly, childhoods in the 2020s are very different to how they were even a decade or two ago. The Protection of Minors Law is an attempt by the government to protect children in the increasingly online world.

It should be noted that the law is still at the draft stage and a lot of detail still needs to be ironed out. A formal presentation of the policy proposal is expected in late-June.

Age verification

One of the central pillars of the bill is tightening up age verification protocols. The draft states that the Ministry for Digital Transformation will develop “technical guidelines to facilitate the development of tools” by internet providers, though no other aspects are specified at this stage.

Age verification systems currently used by social media platforms are notoriously lax and in many cases based on forms that the user (ie. the child themselves) fills in when registering, in which they only have to tick a box in which they state that they are over a certain age (on TikTok, for example, the minimum age to register is 13) without any way of actually requiring age verification.

Parental locks

Perhaps the headline measure is that the government will try to force mobile phones and other electronic devices to have free, simple and accessible parental controls.

All mobiles, tablets, computers and televisions will have to include the digital parental control function as standard so that it can be activated in a clear way – similar to language selection – by parents or guardians, who will be able to decide which applications, services and content they restrict for minors.

READ ALSO: Growing calls for Spain to ban mobiles for under-16s

Virtual restraining orders

The introduction of virtual restraining orders (or a ‘distance penalty’ as it’s referred to in the draft text) is another new introduction. It’s also one that would require significant legal reform, for which up to 10 articles of the Spanish Penal Code would have to be modified “to incorporate the penalty of prohibition of access or communication through social networks, forums, communication platforms or any other place in the virtual space, when the crime is committed within them.”

In other words, bans on using certain platforms for bad behaviour.

Legal crackdown on false identities

Similarly, the government also aims to include using false identities or profiles in several articles of the penal code, so that when someone uses a fake identity in order to “facilitate the execution of criminal conduct”, or makes a profile with a fake age, sex, gender or other personal characteristics, criminal penalties could in theory be issued.

This is a measure presumably intended to intended to protect children from predators online, but also to prevent online bullying among children.

Health-focused approach

The law is not just a legal text, however. It will also try to introduce a more holistic, health-based approach that will monitor Spanish minors’ technology use throughout their childhoods.

Though the exact details are still to be ironed out (mostly because health powers are devolved in Spain) the text does mention a ‘review’ programme which includes sessions from birth up to age 14 in which nurses, paediatricians and psychologists will participate.

These sessions will be used to identify “problematic uses” of technology, such as phone addiction, and will test for “other harmful behaviours such as isolation, lack of play or lack of language stimulation” among others.

Striking a healthy balance between online and offline play is also a key objective of the law. According to the draft: “Special attention will be paid to identifying situations in which children and adolescents resort to the digital environment as a priority to establish peer relationships, checking whether they have at their disposal healthy leisure resources, meeting places and free recreational activities.”

Addiction treatment

Regional governments will create specific health care procedures for children displaying addictive behaviour towards digital devices, pooling the resources of local mental health care services, addictive behaviour care units and child and adolescent mental health centres.

Some may even create dedicated centres for children suffering device addiction, which will include special consideration for non-substance addictive behaviour. These types of centres already exist in some parts of Spain, notably in Madrid, which was a pioneer in launching a similar service in 2018.

Digital literacy plan

Education will also play a role, and the government hopes to implement a ‘digital literacy plan’ through different subjects, similarly to how sex education can be taught across several different classes.

The aim is to better equip youngsters for the online world and give them the tools to combat, for example, fake news, and teach them how to think critically online.