By Aroha Awarau of Maori Television
A Pasifika organisation – Pacific Media Network – is leading the way by providing an extra 12 days of leave each year for those experiencing menstrual cycles and menopause, one of the first companies in Aotearoa to do so.
It wasn't an easy fight but Tongan Niu FM radio announcer and E Tu Union delegate Lusia Petelo says the advocacy work was worth it.
"If we have access to this, we no longer have parents who lose all of their sick leave because they have to look after their families or children before themselves," says Petelo, who talked to Te Ao Tapatahi.
"For any who can relate to these menopause or menstrual issues, sometimes you just need half a day to rest your body."
The controversial and divisive employment issue is becoming more common in workplaces both here and overseas. But Petelo discovered that it was a challenge to fight for the policy within a Pacific framework, as menstruation and menopause are rarely openly discussed in Pacific homes, she says.
"The fact of talking about it was a very big challenge. I'm in radio and I love to talk. I believe part of our work as an announcer is to be able to break certain stigmas."
The 31-year-old started with the Auckland-based Pacific media company in 2017 and became a full-time host in 2020.
She was appointed to become the union delegate and was tasked with negotiating and fighting for better conditions for her members.
The idea to implement a menstrual and menopause policy was brought up during their annual collective contract negotiations.
Her request was initially turned down by her two male bosses but they reconsidered and approved the additional leave after Lusia didn't back down and continued to fight.
"When the request was initially declined, I was angry, I was upset, I was disappointed. Who am I to be standing up and speaking on behalf of women? I feel like there are women in this community who are better advocates for this. However, I've been chosen to sit in this delegated role."
"My mindset switched from 'oh my gosh, this is scary" to 'I'm going to get it, no matter what.'"
The menstrual policy came into effect at the Pacific Media Network at the beginning of this year. Employees on the collective contract will be entitled to an additional 12 days of paid personal leave each year to deal with issues surrounding menstruation and menopause in addition to the organisation's existing sick leave entitlements.
The company will also supply free sanitary pads in its bathrooms.