Participation of women in the workforce is essential to drive economic growth. In India, between 2000 to 2005, female participation in the workforce rose from 30% to 37%. However, over the next decade, the participation dipped by 10%.
While it is true that India’s economy developed significantly from 2005 to 2014, the falling participation of women is a clear deterrent to India’s planned progress.
There are many reasons for this decline in women’s participation in the labour force – lack of education, job opportunities, sexist work policies, etc. However, the government has also played a major role in this by not giving women’s health issues like menstruation, sexual health, maternal health, due cognisance.
On a global level, menstruation is considered a serious health issue, for which leave from work is granted. However, such leaves are yet to see the light of day in India.
With the fall in levels of trust and rates of participation from women, the least the Indian government can do is to take a leaf out of the ‘menstrual policies’ in the following countries:
Japan implemented one of its most progressive and empowering policies in 1947. According to the Labour Standards Law, 1947, women suffering from painful periods, or those whose jobs may worsen ‘period pain’ are granted physiological leave (seirikyuuka) from work. However, the leaves aren’t paid ones.
The law ensured that Japan was one of the first nations to employ a ‘menstrual-leave’ policy. The situation under which this was implemented was scarily similar to India’s current situation (barring one exception). Post World War II Japan saw an unprecedented boom in women’s participation in the workforce. However, workplaces like factories, mines and bus-stations had little or no sanitary facilities – hence, the need for such a legislation.
Given the increased reliance and collaboration between India and Japan in recent years, India should willingly learn from Japan regarding menstrual policies – just as it has done (or is trying to) for the ambitious bullet train project!
Taiwan had an annual leave policy which granted 30 days of half paid sick-leave to all its workers. In 2013, however, an amendment to the Gender Equality in Employment Act guaranteed women three days of menstrual leave per year.
As a result, women in Taiwan can now avail up to 33 days of health-related leave.
The Act was originally planned to include the three days of menstrual leave within the mandatory thirty days of half-paid sick leave. However, a gender-diverse coalition of politicians claimed that this was a violation of women’s rights, and ensured that the amendment granted the extra three days.
South Korea has had a menstrual leave policy in place since 2001, under Article 71 of Republic of Korea’s Labour Standards Act, every woman is entitled to one day of menstrual leave every month. They are also guaranteed extra pay if they do not take the menstrual leave which they are entitled to.
South Korea’s workforce is heavily male-dominated and the policy has been severely criticised by men’s right activists. According to them, this policy is merely another form of discrimination.
Moreover, efforts to grant menstrual leave to university students backfired. It was feared that students would end up abusing such a leave.
In 2016, the Anhui province in China introduced a new regulation to provide women, suffering from severe menstrual pain, a leave of one or two days every month. The leave can be availed only on presenting a doctor’s certificate to the employer.
However, this wasn’t the first Chinese province to introduce such provisions. Policies for menstrual leave had already been implemented in Shanxi and Hubei provinces.
If there are concerns about an excessive misuse of menstrual leave, India can certainly take a hint or two from Zambia.
In Zambia, talking about periods is taboo. Hence, such a day is referred to as ‘Mother’s Day’ in the country. However, such taboos do not prevent the nation from granting one day of menstrual leave (per year) as ‘Mother’s Day’.
Legal action can be taken against companies that do not provide leave on ‘Mother’s Day’ – this, despite the fact that companies often complain that such leaves have declined productivity.
However, Zambia is very strict about the legitimacy of the claims for such leaves. If workers are found partying, leaving town or vacationing during ‘Mother’s Day’ leave, they can be fired.
Italy is well-known for its female-friendly labour laws. Five months of mandatory maternity leave is granted to all female workers and they are paid 80% of their salary for this period. This cannot be renounced by either the employee or employer. There’s also a provision for taking an extra six months of optional parental leave, during which period 30% of the salaries are provided to both parents.
If reports are to be believed, Italy may well be on its way to become the first Western nation to have an official policy for menstrual leave, starting in 2017.
The lower house of the Italian Parliament has discussed a draft law that may make it mandatory for employers to provide three days of paid menstrual leave every month for working women suffering from painful periods.
This would indeed be another feather in the cap of Italy’s female-friendly policy makers, even in the midst of concerns about this move making workplace inequality worse.
With Asian nations clearly leading the way in introducing and implementing female-friendly labour policies, what is India’s situation? As of 2017, India has yet to implement an official policy regarding the issue of menstrual or period leave. Whatever initiatives have been taken in this regard have been the sole responsibility of the employer.
The concept of a menstrual leave should be perceived as an empowering one and not as a discriminatory one. This is a double-edged sword.
A policy which acknowledges the health and wellbeing of the female gender can go a long way in empowering women – especially in a country where taboos around issues like menstruation are prevalent even in the upper echelons of society.
On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that a menstrual leave policy will lead to fairness. In Japan and South Korea, women hesitate to take menstrual leave, fearing discrimination and harassment.
Moreover, there’s also the fear and stigma of being perceived as being weaker, if one surrenders to period pain. In India, working women have cast doubts on whether the country really needs a menstrual leave policy or not.
Therefore, legislation cannot be a long-term cure, especially if it fails to change the regressive mindsets of the employers and female employees. Besides, a menstrual leave policy is probably not feasible for India’s vast but poor unorganised sector, which operates on a shoestring budget.
Given that 97% of India’s working women are employed in the unorganised sector, addressing concerns such as the lack of affordable menstrual products, especially in public spaces, is evidently more important.
The battle against ‘menstrual taboos, unfairness and discrimination’ thus needs to be waged on multiple fronts. Legislation, changing mindsets and ensuring provision of affordable menstrual products are possible solutions to this wide-ranging issue, which are only applicable as per the needs of the situation.