Women’s issues have been brought to the forefront repeatedly, as many tend to forget the day-to-day inconveniences women face. One such issue is the never-ending debate on whether women require menstrual leave in workplaces.
Some claim that workplaces and their rules were primarily designed to suit men’s conveniences and lifestyles, while women’s were overlooked.
However, more and more women are being encouraged to work, and as they continue to enter the workforce, the menstrual leave issue needs immediate acknowledgement. Women deserve comfortable working spaces.
So, what is the issue of menstrual leave, and why do women need it?
Recently, Smriti Irani, the Indian Minister of Women and Child Development, made a statement regarding menstrual leave when Congress MP Shashi Tharoor inquired “whether the government has considered to make provision for paid menstrual leave.”
She said she “sees menstruation as a natural part of a woman's journey and not a handicap." She indicated that, currently, there is no policy in the works aiming to provide menstrual leaves to women.
While the minister claims menstruation is not a handicap, many women experience debilitating symptoms. Apart from typical stomach cramps (that may vary in intensity for different women), women have to deal with hormonal changes, pain, discomfort, fatigue, mood swings, heavy bleeding, and so on. Some women also deal with vomiting and nausea.
On top of these symptoms, women have to deal with traveling to work, long working hours, and, in many cases, a lack of hygienic toilets.
A section of women also suffer from dysmenorrhoea or endometriosis. Many women also suffer from the symptoms of PCOD. Some require medication to help during this time. Apart from this, women have also complained of the improper disposal system at workplaces, the lack of emergency sanity napkins, irregular water supply, and hygienic bathrooms.
Some sources have also revealed that the pain women experience during their periods is similar to that of a heart attack. So, how can women be expected to work efficiently during such a time?
Usually, women take leaves on their periods by using up their casual or sick leaves, as there is no facility to take leave and rest at such a time. With the option of taking leave during periods, women will be able to rest and take care of their health.
By introducing menstrual leave, we can ensure that there are no compromises when it comes to women’s well-being. This way, women won’t feel their productivity is affected because of menstrual-related stress.
How Indian culture has affected period talk
Because avoiding period talk is not only deeply rooted in patriarchy but also in Indian culture, menstrual hygiene is one of the most neglected issues Indian women face even today.
There is an abundance of superstitions and restrictions surrounding menstruation.
Women are expected to isolate themselves during this time. They were not “allowed” to engage in household labour. In many cultures, menstruation is denoted as “impurity” or "untouchability." Some women cannot even touch their family members during their periods.
While the elders and Sadhgurus may claim some scientific reason for this isolation, it only manages to further stigmatize menstruation and instigate more segregation. Women do not deserve to be ostracized for something that happens to them biologically.
The period products advertised on TV claim that women can do anything if they use sanitary napkins. While the ads promoting the use of period products help in destigmatizing the usage of period products (as many women still wear cloth pads and avoid sanitary pads), it creates the sense that women do not face any discomfort while wearing them.
What other countries are doing
A hundred years ago, Soviet Russia decided to create a formal menstrual leave policy to safeguard women’s reproductive health. We have countries like Japan and South Korea that have had a menstrual leave policy for over 60 years.
Similarly, other Pan-Asian countries like Indonesia, Zambia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have menstrual leave policies. In Europe, Spain was the first nation to legitimize a menstrual leave policy in February 2023 for women who experience severe symptoms of periods with the help of a doctor’s note.
On the other hand, in India, Bihar grants menstrual leave, and it is the only state to do so. However, several private companies like Zomato, Swiggy, and Byjus offer menstrual leave as well.
Why the long debate?
Since periods are naturally occurring, many do not consider how inconvenient these symptoms can be for women. The truth is, that women’s issues need to be dealt with with more empathy and consideration.
Some argue that the difference in every woman’s experience may not encourage a uniform law. They fear women will misuse this leave policy.
Earlier, a petition made to the Supreme Court requesting menstrual leave was dismissed. The court feared that menstrual leave would discourage or prevent employers from seeking female employees.
The court asked the petitioner to seek a solution that does not victimize women experiencing this issue, as some women feel they need to hide their pain due to the unacceptability of discussing these symptoms in workplaces.
Therefore, the threat of a similar debate arising when it comes to maternity leave is what many feminists are fearing. Mamaearth co-founder Ghazal Alagh suggested the option of “work-from-home” instead of paid menstrual leave. She feels, “We have fought for centuries for equal opportunities and women's rights, and now, fighting for period leave might set back the hard-earned equality.”
The ultimate question, however, we should ask is: Isn’t it inhuman to expect women to be productive and efficient when they are undergoing pain compared to that of a heart attack?
Edited by Vicki Muzio
Image Courtesy by Macrovector on freepik
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