Is Menstrual Leave the Final Solution?
The current school policy regarding menstrual leave of female students is causing many to debate whether relying on one’s conscience to keep track of attendance records is deemed fair. So what is the best way to curb issues regarding the policy?
PUUM, the previous Undergraduate Student Council (USC), announced the trial plan for menstrual leave policy last year, which has begun this fall semester. Prior to the policy, absence due to period pain was considered an unofficial illness absence. However, the complication in categorizing period pain as an illness gave rise to the new policy, which allows students to “get an approved leave of absence without any penalties in the attendance score.” Students are now able to request a leave on the KAIST Portal System, for a maximum of four times in a semester in each class.
Menstrual leave in South Korea can be traced back to 2006, when the Ministry of Education introduced the policy in all elementary, middle, and high schools. For higher educational institutions, the adaptation of the policy was left for the universities to decide. Some universities have started to incorporate the policy into their systems for a few years now, but it has always been subject to intense controversy. Among the 19 universities in Seoul — including Korea University, Kyung Hee University, Sogang University, and Seoul National University — eight of the universities are utilizing the menstrual leave policy. Others have run a trial, but have then repealed the policy due to the issue of misuse and fairness concerns.
The core risk of the policy lies in the possibility of abuse. It is important to consider the context of the issue, which is closely related to the grading system of universities in South Korea. Almost all the courses have some kind of an FA (Failure due to Absences) policy, which places a limit on the number of classes a student can miss before receiving a “F” on the course. The penalty on absences is what underlies the concerns over misuse and fairness of the policy. A student from Jeju University who requested anonymity commented, “I’ve used the period leave policy because I was behind on my assignments, or when I was working late-night shifts and found it hard to make it to my morning classes.” However, students cannot be entirely blamed for these choices; inevitably, there are times when students find it difficult to make it to class and the possibility to simply request period leave online definitely seems like an enticing option. Considering that attendance plays a factor in determining students’ final grades in essentially all courses, it is questionable whether leaving it to ethics ensures fairness for students.
In fact, in many other countries, including the United States, it is rare that the final grades students receive reflect their attendance throughout the semester. Therefore, the need for a menstrual leave policy is less evident, since missing classes for personal reasons is permitted. Many who are in favor of the implementation of period leave argue that missing a class is only a loss to the student, so the issue of misuse should be left to the morals and responsibility of the student. But if so, then why can’t this line of thought be applied to all students, rather than only those choosing to use period leave? The irony underlying this reasoning suggests that perhaps, the controversy over period leave points us to a more fundamental problem in our university’s grading system.
The rationale for the need for menstrual leave is valid and well-intentioned. However, in the context of the grading system in universities, the abuse of the policy to evade attendance penalties cannot be ignored — or simply left to the morals of students. Furthermore, the current system of having to request a leave by 9 a.m., and the limitation of only being able to use the leave for an hour and a half — even for a class of longer duration — present logistical difficulties that have to be overcome in order for the policy to have its intended effects. Although many students are in need of such a policy, conversations over students’ concerns and the real limitations will be crucial in order to ensure its success.