[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Periodic absence policy needed in collegesI feel acute pain in my lower abdomen and back, and my belly feels tied up in a tight knot. My legs ache so much that sometimes I can’t walk right. When the pain is severe, my whole body gets soaked in a cold sweat. And then comes indigestion.
I have experienced these pains since I turned 12. It is not a disease, just part of natural symptoms called “menstrual pains.” Many women like me suffer such pains every month when they have their period. When I was in high school, I saw one or two girls in class every week, stooped from menstrual pains.
In sex education, we learned that menstruation is a physiological condition that prepares the body for pregnancy. It is a sign of fertility ― a woman’s ability to bear children. And all too often, pain is part of menstruation. The Korean constitution provides guarantees to safeguard maternity, so the government should protect women’s health through the physical processes involved in pregnancy and maternity.
Until recently, many female students could not be absent from school or the workplace when they were suffering bad pains during their period. Because menstrual pain is not considered a legitimate excuse for being absent, women worried that their absence would hurt their grades or prospects for a promotion. As a result, they just try to endure the pain.
The good news: In March, the Ministry of Education & Human Resources Development approved a policy that allows female students in elementary, middle and high school to be excused for absence during their menstrual period. Older female students shortly afterward clamored for colleges and universities to also apply the policy to their students.
At my school, Sookmyung University, 1,823 students signed a petition last month for “100 Requirements,” including adoption of the policy excusing absence during menstruation.
I had expected my school would be quick to adopt the policy, not least because there are many female deans in my school.
I also thought they understood the pain women endure every month. The school administration’s attitude, however, was disappointing. The answer we got was, “We will consider the matter carefully because there could be some students who insist they should be excused even though they are not on a menstrual period.”
Imagine a female university student who feels severe pain every time she has her period. If one day she can’t be at school because of the pain, would she tell her professor why she was absent, without a school policy to protect her?
Most ― especially male ― professors would not understand, because her pain came neither from disease nor from an accident. If universities don’t adopt the policy, we will continue to see female students forcing themselves to come to class, doubled over in pain.
If middle and high schools can implement the policy, universities, including Sookmyung, should be able to do the same. To prevent abuse by some, the number of excused absent days per semester can be capped. We should remember that women’s health, including issues of maternity, are the most important consideration.
* The writer is the editor of The Sookmyung Times, a student English newspaper at Sookmyung Women’s University.
by Goo Youn Eun-ae