7 Progressive Menstrual Policies Around The World That India Can Learn A Lot From

This post is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign #IAmNotDown to start a conversation on the stigma around menstrual hygiene women deal with. If you have an opinion on how we can improve access to menstrual hygiene products or a personal story of fighting menstrual taboos, write to us here.

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

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

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

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.

China

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.

Zambia

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

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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