Many Sookmyungians may have experienced the sudden onset of their menstruation. The situation only gets more embarrassing when the individual realizes they have no sanitary pads with them. After borrowing a pad from a friend or through a school bulletin board by posting the message, the pain of menstruation starts. The cramps make it feel like your back is breaking and your stomach is shrinking. You feel nauseous. Sometimes the menstrual pain is so severe that it makes their concentration in class impossible. In the past, even though Sookmyungians were sick, they had to attend class or were marked absent when they really wanted to rest. However, with this newly introduced system, Sookmyungians can now be officially excused from class. Students are now able to rest at home and recover before returning to school the next day to take classes. Let’s learn more about the Menstruation Absence with SMT.
Once a month
Woman generally starts their period about the age of 13, and it normally ends when a woman is about the age of 50, during which time they go through menopause. The duration of a woman’s menstruation period lasts for 5 to 7 days. Over the life of a woman, this means a woman spends 10 years of their lives in her period. Menstruation is what happens when the ovum, emitted from the ovary, didn’t get fertilized by sperm. A week of menstruation involves a variety of physical and mental sufferings for women. While it differs according to person, some women suffer intensely. The main symptoms are cramps and back pains. The pain does not come at exact times during one’s period. Moreover, because of the hormonal effect, women can suffer rapid emotional and mental fluctuations that must be managed individually. Woo Chaeyeon, a Business Administration ’19 at Hongik University, said, “My menstrual pain is more than just stomachaches. My back and legs also hurt. On really bad days, my entire body swells, and I feel like l am going to vomit.” Lots of women express physical pain during their periods and it is saddening to hear. Bang Hyojung, Department of English Language & Literature ’19, said she suffers from mental illness when her period comes. She said, “I don’t have much direct menstrual pain but I feel so much anxiety knowing that I have to go through this every month for a whole week.” As Bang points out, some women may not suffer physically, but they do suffer mentally.
Knowing the background, Sookmyung Women’s University decided to introduce a Menstruation Absence system from the second semester of 2019. Under the new system, students may be officially excused from class for menstruation problems. It requires the person to use the official absence to remain at home—no public appearances—and acknowledges that they will be treated as attended. At Sookmyung Women’s University, a student may apply for the official absence four times per semester, and it must be applied in three days. Usage exceptions include a midterm and final exam periods, personal lessons, online classes, and some professors will not accept it for their classes. Moreover, only full-time undergraduate students can use the new system. It has only been two months since its implementation. To investigate the effectiveness of the system, SMT reporters surveyed fellow Sookmyungians.
What has happened in the last two months?
The Sookmyung Student Council, Oneul, decided to implement this new system in order to guarantee a woman’s right to their health and authority. Despite recommendations from the National Human Rights Commissions, there was no system guaranteeing official absences due to menstruation at Sookmyung until now. In the past, menstruation was viewed as dirty and disgraceful. Menstruation was considered something sexual and embarrassing so it was covered up. Merely saying one was on her period and complaining about the pain was considered taboo. By implementing the new system, Oneul believes the taboo will be broken. Some claim the system will lead to abuse such as a student using the absence to merely avoid class, but Oneul said even though there might be some misuses, they are not good reasons for not implementing the official absence policy for menstruation. The main reason for the system, even though there might be misuse and the rate of usage may be low, is that it guarantees rest for menstruation when needed. When a student feels uncomfortable because of physical and psychological changes during her menstruation period, there is an institutional mechanism that guarantees them the right to rest at ease. However, since this system is highly related to classes which also affect a lot in grades, not only schools and students are involved but also professors are.
Some of the professors said they will not approve Menstruation Absence after the second semester started, while others were positive about this new school system. Professor Kwon Seongwoo from Divison of Korean Language & Literature said, “I think Menstruation Absence is necessary, and I’m going to approve it to the attendance, according to the school system.” When asked “What would you do if the Menstruation Absence is abused?” he answered, “I don’t think it is going to be easy to differentiate between abusing the system and using it properly. We are currently accepting Menstruation Absence about four times a semester, and I think we need to try it out and deal with the problem.” As such, it seems that some professors who are not happy about menstruation are concerned about the possibility of abuse. It is true that schools also need a way to cope with this. Even though it was a women’s university, there was no Menstruation Absence, so it's a big change, but there’s still a long way to go.
Month by month, we have to make voice
Despite introducing a Menstruation Absence, students still complain about limitations. 25.6% (23 of 90) of Sookmyungians said the system still has problems. Among the problems, 52.2% (12 of 23) expressed concerns over system abuse. 26.1% (6 of 23) also questioned the one day only absence. The Menstruation Absence was introduced on a trial basis, and students are pointing out its various limitations. To understand concerns better and to resolve doubts, the Student Council Oneul conducted a ‘Meeting for the Menstruation Absence’ on September 27. One student who participated in the meeting asked how the system would benefit students who suffer from severe premenstrual syndromes. The Student Council said students must apply for an absence on the day they think that they will feel most ill, and this is the major flaw with the system. Also, even after the Menstruation Absence is introduced, 22.2% (20 of 90) said they wouldn’t use the system because of the disadvantage of attendance. However, the Office of Academic Affairs said there would be no disadvantage because only the person in charge can check it. Although the Menstruation Absence can lead to abuse and some students being unable to rest on days they feel most ill, problems are being discussed at meetings like these.
Then, how is Menstruation Absence in other universities going? A student, Early Childhood Education ’18 who wants to be anonymous at Duksung Women's University replied, “Students can use Menstruation Absence once every 28 days, and we can use it up to three times a semester.” Han Goeun, Major in Creative Writing ’19 at Soongsil University, said, “It is available every three weeks without limits on the number of times. Menstruation Absence has settled well, so it is used by many people.” Unlike other universities where the system has settled due to early adoption, Menstruation Absence in Sookmyung cannot be said to be perfect yet. However, for women's rights, there are various actions and opinions for the period in Sookmyung. For example, a conscience sanitary pad boxes were introduced in the second semester of 2019. The sanitary pads are placed in designated toilets that can be used when necessary, and one can place her sanitary pads later. Most student participants in the survey conducted by SMT said that once the system and dispensaries are fully functioning properly, students’ rights would be guaranteed. However, some Sookmyungians said that the university needs to offer more various menstruation supplies and painkillers such as Tylenol at school cafés. Overall, Sookmyungians are demanding the right to healthy students’ lives.
For the health of a woman’s body
Sookmyung Women’s University is the first female national private university. As of 2019, Sookmyung's concept of future leaders is to nurture “future-oriented global talent with knowledge, virtue, and constitution”. With this objective in mind, Sookmyungians concentrate on their studies and move passionately towards the future. However, school care for students still needs to be improved. Because all women are born with a uterus, menstruation is natural, and it brings monthly pains. The Menstruation Absence at Sookmyung has only just come into effect. If women could feel uncomfortable in women’s university, this can lead to a lack of consideration in other societies as well. Continuing school attention and the listening of Sookmyungians’ opinions on the use of the system will be the first step towards a healthy female body.
Ahn Ha Yura / Reporter
Lee Hwang Hayoung / Reporter