How periods contribute to gender pay inequality in Australia

Gender pay inequality remains a significant issue in Australia, with women earning less than men on average. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the gender pay gap in Australia was 13.4% in 2021, meaning that women earned 86.6 cents for every dollar earned by men. 

While there are many factors that contribute to this gap, one often overlooked issue is the impact of periods on women's careers. Are periods, menstruating and associated issues contributing to the gender pay inequality in Australia? Let’s take a look.

Menstruation stigma and discrimination

Despite being a natural and unavoidable biological process, menstruation is still stigmatised in many workplaces. Experiencing menstrual pain or symptoms and taking leave, or longer breaks depending on the severity may be seen as less productive or committed. 

Discrimination based on menstruation is a real issue that can lead to women being passed over for promotions or opportunities, or being forced to take sick leave or unpaid time off.

Lack of access to menstrual products

Access to menstrual products such as pads and tampons is essential for health and well-being. This can create a financial burden for women, particularly those in low-paying jobs, who may need to choose between buying these products and other necessities. A lack of access to products can lead to missing work or being unable to participate fully in their job duties. 

Most workplaces do not provide these items for free, but it’s a great idea to. If you have the option to, you should consider starting a Red Pantry at your workplace.

Inflexible working arrangements

Many women experience more severe menstrual pain and symptoms during their period, which can impact their ability to work. However, inflexible working arrangements can make it difficult for women to manage their symptoms or take time off when needed. This can lead to women being less productive, missing work, or being penalized for taking time off.

There are calls for menstrual and menopause leave to be included in the Fair Work Act after a A survey on menopause in the workplace by Circle In and the Victorian Women's Trust found 83 per cent of respondents said their work was negatively affected by menopause.

Perpetuating gender stereotypes

The perception that periods are a women's issue perpetuates the stereotype that women are emotional and unreliable, which can harm women's career prospects. 

Menstruation is often seen as a taboo subject in the workplace, which can make it difficult for women to discuss their experiences and advocate for themselves. Take for example the role of Head of Female Engagement at Cricket Australia, which was cut just days after the release of a survey that found the national women's team had the strongest emotional connection with Australian sports fans.

The solution

While periods may seem like a minor issue, they can have a significant impact on women's careers and contribute to gender pay inequality in Australia. 

To address this issue, there are a few solutions. Firstly, workplaces need to come on board. Workplaces should assist in breaking down menstrual stigma and discrimination by providing free access to menstrual products, like through our Red Pantry, offering flexible working arrangements, and creating a culture of openness and support around menstrual health. 

Secondly is getting boys and men on board to smash the stigma. One-fifth (19%) of boys in Australia think periods should be kept secret, according to a survey on girls’ equality Plan International Australia

Want to discover more?

Explore our database of everyone working towards menstrual equality in Australia.

Inclusivity note

Within this article, we may use the terms she, her, woman, girl or daughter. We understand that not all people with uteruses who are assigned female at birth menstruate, and not everyone who menstruates identifies as a female, girl or woman. For more information on this, please see our article about the importance of gender inclusivity when discussing periods and menstruation.

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