“Why can’t they do it, when our mothers could?” 

“More pressing matters require attention.” “Menstruation is not a disease.” 

“It promotes women’s workplace laziness.” “Why should women receive an equal salary if they work fewer days than men?”  

The above are common reactions against granting women menstrual leave at work. 

The unpleasant effects the monthly cycle has on a woman’s body and psyche may lead her to decide to take a paid or unpaid leave from her employment. Menstrual leave is the term for this kind of absence. Although gender inclusion in the tech ecosystem has made progress in hiring more women, workplaces and regulations continue to be set up in a way that does not accommodate women’s biological needs. It is still uncommon to find businesses in Africa taking the initiative to develop menstruation leave policies for their female employees. 

Klasha, a cross-border commerce technology company, has joined the relative handful of such atypical businesses. The technology firm, with offices in San Francisco and Lagos, has actioned a new menstrual leave policy for its female employees. For a technology business operating in Nigeria, this is a first. In addition to the statutory annual and sick leaves to which Klasha employees are already entitled, the policy provides five menstrual leave days for female employees. According to Klasha, as the year goes on, it will evaluate the policy’s effectiveness and modify the number of leave days.

Klasha has made this change in an attempt to empower its female employees who make up to 50% of its permanent team. Klasha also wants to set an example in the fight against societal taboos associated with menstruation and ignorance of the challenges they pose to women. CEO of Klasha, Jess Anuna, stated in a press statement provided to TechCabal:  “At Klasha, we understand that we must make room for women’s biological needs as a part of everyday business. Rather than leave the subject as an unspoken taboo, we want to build a culture of trust, truth, and acceptance.“

The road to acceptance, though, appears to be long. Such period leave rules are incorrectly perceived by many people, including women, as signs of biological frailty that devalue women in the workplace. According to some women, such regulations emphasise the biological distinctions between men and women and encourage more gender-based discrimination in the workplace. They believe that these laws could prevent them from moving up the corporate ladder since their time off might make them appear less important and capable than their male co-workers.

Klasha founder and CEO, Jessica Anuna. Image credit: Klasha.

Anuna responds to that sentiment by pointing out that the menstrual leave policy is elective; female employees may choose not to take advantage of it. However, she emphasised that Klasha believes in embracing biological diversity and creating safe spaces for those differences versus seeing it as a hindrance.  “We predict that in the future, we will see more companies adopting such policies, which will empower women, encourage workplace diversity, and have a positive effect on women’s career paths and development,” she concluded.

The majority of negative male reactions to menstrual leave regulations are a reflection of the pervasive misinformation and underestimated impact that menstrual symptoms have on women’s physical and mental health. Some respond, bordering on satire, by requesting additional days off from work to deal with “the discomfort of erections” and other ignorant jabs.

A woman’s annual productivity loss solely due to period pain has been estimated to be around nine days. The symptoms might be minor or serious enough to affect a person’s quality of life. They consist of cramping in the abdomen, discomfort in the pelvis, headaches, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, panic attacks, irritability, depression, and hostility. They also include exhaustion and insomnia. Usually, underlying illnesses like endometriosis, which affects 10% of women globally, make physical symptoms worse. It is only fair that organisations consider this gender-specific need and cater to it. Employees are less likely to be absent from work and more likely to show up because they feel their needs are being met, which has been noted to increase productivity.

When asked how she would make sure that everyone at Klasha was aware of the fairness of this policy,  Anuna said that “Education on this topic, not just in the workplace but more widely is crucial. We want to lead by example and want our employees to understand the impact of menstruation.” In her press release, she asserts that, “Menstruation is a part of life, and while society is still far from fully understanding what women go through, Klasha is delighted to be an early mover in this, especially in Africa, where very few such policies are in place.”

Menstrual leave regulations have not yet been included in Nigerian labour laws, where the company is headquartered. Zambia is the only African country that has granted women the right to take a day, per month, off work to tend to menstrual symptoms. Even there, many employers actively dissuade their female employees from using it. Some employers contend that since the company couldn’t validate whether or not a woman was genuinely on her period, she might abuse it. The management team at Klasha, which has expertise at Amazon, PayPal, Wise, Shopify, and Net-a-Porter, is unconcerned about the abuse of the policy. 

“We trust our team to use the policy as intended and don’t seek to confirm whether a team member is menstruating or not. Employees can book time off in our HR CRM autonomously without communicating directly with their manager and don’t have to provide reasons, notes, or proof,” said Anuna.

Backed by investors such as Amex Ventures, Klasha has built a suite of products that facilitates trade to and from Africa in local African currencies. Its products include KlashaWire, KlashaCheckout, Payment Links, and Klasha Business. It has also built a consumer-facing product—the Klasha App reportedly enables over 250,000 users to shop in-app from international brands using the Klasha Visa Dollar Card. Klasha claims to have onboarded over 2,000 merchants and processed over 350,000 transactions while maintaining its month-on-month growth. Its consumer product, the Klasha App, has over 250,000 app users and has grown by over 90% in the last six months alone.

The nearly three-year-old startup says that this new menstrual leave policy is a strategic move to attract and retain contented talents who are consequently more productive.

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