A certain time of the month, you wake up uncomfortable. After going to the bathroom, you realize you’ve begun your monthly period. Despite the awkwardness of using a sanitary pad and the menstrual pain you feel, you have to head to school or work. You feel terribly and don’t want to do anything due to a lack of energy. What you could take your menstrual period off school or work without bothering others? Well, with leave for women on their periods, you can. However, is this policy just? You might be tempted to misuse the policy and take advantage of it when you are not on your period or in pain to merely enjoy a day off or to go out for the day.
How Can You Make Use of the Policy
Excused absence in the name of menstruation is a policy that was erected in 2006 to protect the health of female students and love from women. Universities currently implementing the policy include Seoul National University, Korea University, and Hanyang University. Interestingly, the only women’s universities in Seoul employing the policy are Duksung and Sungshin Women’s University. Sookmyung Women’s University has yet to acknowledge the policy. Also, Sogang University abolished the policy in 2008. According to a survey of universities in 2007 when the controversy begin, 59% of students agreed with the policy at Chungang University and a mere 1.12% at Kyunghee University.1 There was a huge difference in opinion at the different universities because each university employs different regulations regarding the policy, so while some universities freely permitted its usage, others made it difficult for women to gain an excused absence.
Are there any benefits to the policy? According to Sogang University, when it surveyed usage frequency, menstrual cycle, and grade, excused absences in the name of menstruation showed no difference with excused absences obtained for other reasons. Moreover, female students who used excused absences and received FA warnings—students absent more than 5 times from a course are given an F—had twice the number of absences than other female students. Gwon Hyeongsun, Head of the Department of Student Culture at Sogang University, said, “After analyzing the data, we found that opposite to our hypothesis that students would use the excused absence at the same time each month, we found students used the excused absence periodically in order to have a “free” day from school.”2 In other words, female students were merely using the policy to gain an extra day off school. This case study clearly shows the problems with the policy.
Weaknesses of the Policy
The first problem with the excused absences is that the policy is an icon of reverse discrimination in Korean society. Because male students can’t benefit from the policy, it is seen as unfair treatment by men. In other words, it triggers conflict between women and men. Also, causing disgruntled feelings is that the policy is being used at co-ed universities, so male students feel at a disadvantage compared to their female classmates. Before Sogang University abolished the excused absence on account of menstruation, female students could receive A grades despite being absent more than 5 classes whereas male students could receive F grades when they are absent 5 times. Once male students realized that female students were misusing the policy, the issue became more controversial as men were extremely upset. Gang Mingeun, a student in the Department of Philosophical Studies ’04 at Sogang University said, “One day, a bunch of us decided to ditch school to hang out. We were all marked absent, but one student who obtained a period excused absence, was not. She lied.”3 This case clearly shows numerous male students are subjected to reverse discrimination because of the excused menstrual absence policy.
The second problem is abuse. Although they do not feel any discomfort and as such can participate in class, female students use the excused absence policy to “ditch” school without any consequences. According to research at Chungang University, the number of students applying for the excused absence totaled 194 a day, but on days before holidays like Children’s Day, the number rose to 308 and the day after Children’s Day was 371. Also, 477 female students applied for the excused absence on alternating days, sometimes to enjoy long weekends and to extend the Buddha’s Birthday holiday.4 Because there is no need to prove they are inconvenienced due to their menstrual period, the easily apply for the excused absence and then later go out to enjoy the day or take the day to do some extra studies for exams or finish up soon to be handed in assignments.
Another problem with the policy is that it is hard to complete the application process, so many female students don’t bother to apply for it. Indeed, while some universities allow the excuses easily, other schools have strict and unclear regulations. For example, while some instructors do not mark non-attendance, others don’t accept the excused certificate and mark the student absent for the class according to professors at Myongji University and Duksung Women’s University. In other words, even if they submit the excused absence document, it might not be accepted and the student would be marked absent for the day. Because of this, many students don’t bother to go through the paperwork to obtain a certificate, rendering the policy and its objective useless. Also, because the process is so complex, students feel inconvenient. For example, at Hanyang University, students have to submit medical certificates as well as an application form, which needs to be sealed and presented to the Center of Gender Equality within 3 days after the absence. All documents must then be submitted to the professor within seven days. Then, in this case, is the policy really fulfilling its purpose of convenience for women who are undergoing menstrual pain?
Back Up Supports Needed
To resolve the first problem, campaigns and activities related with improving awareness at both the university level as well as the club level. For example, universities and clubs could give chances to male students to experience what it feels like to go through menstruation, so they could fully understand the pain and discomfort of women during the period and realize the purpose behind the excused absence. Park Eunyeong, President of the Female Student Body at Kyunghee University, said “Forums and education for both female and male students is needed so that they could learn to better communicate and understand each other. Female students need to learn to be responsible for using the policy properly, and male students need to learn to understand why it is important to protect love from women and have the policy at school and work.”5 Basically, it is important for each sex to endeavour to learn to understand each other.
The second problem would best be dealt with by addressing manners. The policy will only work if students responsibly apply for an excused absence and not as a means of gaining a “free” day from school. Also, if the student misused the policy, she should not be eligible to use the excused absence again or face some sort of penalty. For instance, if a student abuses the policy, even once, she should be prevented from reapplying for an excused absence for at least three weeks. Myongji University instituted a similar type of reprimand system to prevent abuse. The regulation could be operated by a policy like instituting ‘accusation policy’ among students to prevent false claims, and ensure the concrete and strict regulations are kept. This would surely prevent abuse of the policy. Another possibility would be to check if students were really menstruating. For example, at Sangji University, the school is administering urine examinations when students claim to be on menstruating and apply for an excused absence. Of course, the investigative process should be easy and simple so that students who are suffering from menstruation discomfort are not forced to endure more pain.
The last problem could be solved by modifying the policy’s regulations. For instance, some universities like Myongji University allow the absence, but don’t guarantee its acceptance by professors. For peace of mind, universities have to guarantee acceptance of the excuse. Also, the complex usage processes must be simplified. These complex processes only burden sick students. Actually, at Duksung Women’s University, due to the complex process of applying for an excused absence, few female students have ever used an excused absence for their period. Park Sohui, student in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature ’15 in Duksung Women’s University, summarizes the discomfort of students, “When we want to apply for an excused absence, we have to visit the Center of Healthy while in pain. It’s too complicated to use an excused absence.”6 Besides the visit to the Center, students who want to apply for an excused absence due to their period must obtain medical certifications from an official hospital and seals of acceptance by several departments in the university. The red tape that female students must go through needs loosing.
What We Are Needed
Choi Eunsook, the person in charge of the Sex and Gender Discrimination Team at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, said, “To protect the rights of women, especially those related to health and social understanding, we need to try to organize regulations for menstrual excused absences.”7 Menstrual excused absences are in theory good policy, but when abused, it brings about a lot of problems. Universities have to implement the policy in such a manner that it can be used conveniently and honestly by female students; also, male students need to learn to understand female students’ pain and trust their honesty. Finally, female students need to be honest because the policy was established for their benefit and only through their honest use of the policy can it be sustained.
1 Gang Ayeon, “In Universities, Absence On Account of Menses Have Been Controversy,” SeoulNews, April 4, 2007
2 Heo Jeongheon, “Universities, Absence on Account of Menses Policy, Pain that Don`t End," Chosun, March 7, 2008 3 Lee Hyunsun, “Average is 191 in Day, Who is a Liar?” ChungangNews, October 4, 2011
4 Kim Jeny, “Absence on Account of Menses Don᾽t be Implemented Perfectly,” CivicNews, April 1, 2015
5 Choe Jina, “Absence on Account of Menses, ‘A Pie in the Sky᾽,” WomenNews , June 27, 2008
6 Park Soyeong, “Absence on Account of Menses that Has a Lot of Word and Trobles,” Duksung Women᾽s University News, September 21, 2015
7 Jeon Suyeon, “Absence on Account of Menses, Abolish was Best?” SukangNews, September 16, 2008