If you were to go by sanitary napkin advertisements on the TV, you would believe that women turn into superwoman during their periods. That the harmless looking blue ink that women leak for a few days of the month spreads onto the white canvas of the pad, and gives them a pair of wings to take on the world.
So it would be least surprising if you are that someone, who, after having seen these advertisements on the TV, is booing a progressive piece of legislation drafted by Mr Ninong Ering, Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, that seeks to grant women a two day paid menstrual leave at their workplace.
Contrary to the advertisements, women bleed red – not ink but real human blood. Period cramps are an excruciatingly painful experience for many, if not all. Popping painkillers or lying down on bed with a hot water bag for hours is a common practice among women to avoid pain – pain that women did not choose to undergo but have to arbitrarily suffer on account of being born with a uterus.
Since period pain is unique to women, why should they not have the choice to decide how best to deal with it? That is where the menstrual leave bill comes in – to provide women with an option to avoid work in case of terrible cramps instead of putting up a brave face at work and disobeying their bodies.
Women no longer have to hide behind sick leaves or casual leaves and can reclaim their right to bleed with dignity. They can choose to prioritize their bodily comfort over work demands and their own well-being over pleasing their bosses or co-workers.
Simply put, the most enabling provision of the bill is that it allows women to decide if they want to call it a day or not, empowering them to put themselves before anybody or anything else in the world. If a woman does not experience painful periods or any other complications like nausea, excessive bleeding or fatigue, she may choose not to avail the leave. So to take or not to take a leave is the question that is left best to women depending on how their relationship with their menstrual cycle is.
Apart from advocating for paid leaves during periods, the bill also addresses the need to create a period-friendly environment at the workplace by installing sanitary pad vending machines, proper rest rooms, well-functioning clean toilets and most importantly, enabling women to have healthy conversations around periods with their male colleagues and bosses.
Women can now stand tall for their special rights as female workers and unhesitatingly proclaim, “We bleed, therefore we are!”
If periods are not a luxury, menstrual leave is not a privilege. It is a relief provided to women at the workplace on account of a specific, natural bodily function that causes discomfort to them during a few days. Acknowledging pain does not make women the weaker sex; denying their unique experience does.
It is high time our workspaces mirror the needs and every month realities of women and offer them a nurturing space to articulate them in a language and day of their choosing. As a friend rightly pointed out, gender equality requires positive discrimination not formal equality; justice not fairness.