The controversy sparked by the proposal that women affected by painful or disabling periods should be entitled to paid sick leave from day one puts an ancient problem at the center of the debate: the invisibility and even concealment of women’s health. especially in working conditions.
This is not a new problem or conflict. In my first steps, in the late 70s of the last century, as a labor lawyer in the office of my teacher Francesc Casares, I was fortunate to come across textile workers. They came for advice in connection with the refusal of doctors to give them sick leave. In some cases, also sue for recognition of permanent disability.
They were workers of a certain age who suffered from serious disorders in the form of severe headaches and severe pain in the neck. They rightly complained that doctors did not diagnose them at all, did not even pay attention to them. At best, they were given painkillers, and in others, not even that, they explained their condition as a “specific” psychosomatic disorder for women.
Over time, and with great struggle, it was discovered that the source of their illnesses lay in the working conditions they had to endure for decades. These were the women who were in charge of the looms and spent hours and hours for years in a physical position that proved to be ergonomically inhumane. They adapted their bodies to machines, not the other way around. As a result, the cervix is fractured.
Since then, it has become clear to me that if men were sick instead of women, their ailments would never be explained by psychosomatic factors and the causes would be diagnosed faster.
The female gaze was costly to detect occupational hazards. Historically, occupational accidents, which mostly affected men, were given some importance due to the occupational structure of sectors that had higher accident rates. And much less attention was paid to occupational diseases, especially women’s diseases.
That’s why the Institute for Labor, Environment and Health Institute’s Psychosocial Risk Assessment project, promoted twenty years ago by the CCOO, was very important.
It was originally called ISTAS 21, a number that represented the 20 most common risk factors, and one number, 21, which required a gender perspective in all risk assessments. The philosophy behind this psychosocial risk identification and assessment tool, known as COPSOQ, is to make visible and illuminate the realities that particularly affect women.
Significant progress has been made since then, but the current debate shows that there is still much to be done in the field of pedagogy. Let’s start by clarifying that equality must recognize diversity and that they must be treated differently if equality is to be real. Especially when it comes to people’s health.
The claim that recognizing paid sick leave could stigmatize and harm women in their access to employment or in their employment relationships seems to me especially dangerous. Among other things, because this reasoning can be uncritically extended to the very position of women, understood as an obstacle to productivity, in some company concepts.
The argument that menstrual pain for some women should be treated like any other disabling pain ignores the fact that temporary disability benefits are not paid until the fourth day of sick leave and at 60% of the regulatory framework. .
Of course, the priority is to improve research and health care in order to avoid the misery that so many women suffer every month. But this is not contrary to the protection of those who suffer from such situations.
I want to draw attention to the fact that this advocacy of women has a positive effect on society as a whole. To counter this with arguments about the risk of stigmatizing women is to accept a business model in which workers are just parts of the production machine.
At the heart of this controversy is a deep-seated debate about what kind of company we need. Usually women demand that the model of society that we want to build be brought up for public discussion. This was the case with the demand for equal pay for work of equal value, which ultimately benefited all workers. Or the demand for a policy of conciliation that makes possible compatibility between worker and citizen at the same time without dying in the attempt.
It is once again confirmed that gender claims, as carriers of universal values, which they are, usually lead to significant achievements in citizenship.
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