Should Women Get Paid Menstrual Leave?

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Our society needs to go beyond the plethora of discussions, and address the real problems around the taboo of menstruation and issues related to it. Open discussions are not enough, we also need to find solutions, and that should be the primary objective of the voices that say “let’s talk periods”.

The landmark judgment on Sabarimala issue, wherein the menstruating women were allowed to enter the temple premises is one such example. The verdict has helped in empowering women, but still, there is a long way to go.

Today, menstrual leave has become a subject of heated debate across the globe. The discourse is all about whether or not women should get paid menstrual leave. Before answering the question and jumping into conclusions, one needs to analyse the physical and biological factors behind the raised question.

A woman has to go through painful cramping, backache, headache, moodiness, fatigue, bloating and many more problems in the days of their menstrual cycle, and coming to work in this condition proves to be a harrowing experience for them. Working with such physical and mental imbalances in those days not only affects the women’s health, but it also has a negative impact on their work productivity.

It is important for an organization to create a safe and empowered work environment by being sensitive to the women’s needs like giving maternity benefits or ensuring hygienic toilets for them. Likewise, providing menstrual leave will boost women’s motivation and thus, in a long run improve their performance at workplace. Menstrual leave has been recognized in countries like Japan, Indonesia, Korea and Philippines, and they have laws that allow a working woman to take time off during her period if the discomfort and pain is too severe for her to do her job.

In India, a Menstruation Benefit Bill was tabled last year by a member of parliament from Arunachal Pradesh to provide working women two days of paid menstrual leave in public as well as private sector. However, being a private member’s bill, chances of it being passed are fewer. The introduction of this bill has thrown light on the burning issue, due to which many organizations and companies have started implementing such policies in their workplace.

Companies like Cultural Machine, Magzter, Mathrumbi, Gozoop are some of the firms who were the first to implement menstrual leave policy in their organization. Another interesting fact which isn’t commonly known is that the Bihar government has been offering two days of period leave to women employees since 1992. A woman employee here can take a two-day leave per month, without mentioning the reason for such leave. Currently, the Kerala government is also debating about paid menstrual leave for government employees.

For the formulation of any policy, pros and cons must be taken into consideration for its effective implementation, and the same goes for the menstrual leave policy. The critics argue that implementation of such policy will not benefit the women employees, rather it will prejudice the employers against hiring women in their firms. Contentions are also being made that menstrual leave is discriminating in nature and can degrade the very spirit of gender equality.

Some people also highlight the fact that undue advantage of such facility can be taken easily by faking pain, sickness etc. The critics say that the preconceived notion that women are weaker than men might prove to be true if the menstrual leave policy is implemented. Some also believe that such policies couldn’t work in developing countries like India, where there is already a lack of gender justice and can widen the gap between the rich and poor.

Well, it is evident that there have always been public uproars before any change is implemented in the society. It’s necessary that plenty of debates and discourse must take place in order to get more refined results, which will ultimately benefit the people at large. While criticising the idea of menstrual leave, it’s also important to look at the other side of the coin.

Talking about empowering the women, the implementation of menstrual leave can be a small step towards the giant improvement. Looking at the positive side of the debate, one can easily make out that instead of influencing the minds of employers against hiring women employees, it will rather create a safe and secure work environment. This will safeguard the interest of women which can become a long-term investment with great returns for an organization.

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Another contention regarding the discriminatory nature of the policy can be denied on the pretext of the constitutional provision under Article 14, which empowers the legislature for making laws based on positive discrimination that would benefit the victims of patriarchy.

Further, it must be noted that the state is under constitutional obligation under Article 42 of the Constitution which requires to ensure just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women.

Therefore, Article 42 justifies that nothing prevents the Parliament of India from enacting a law entitling working women to menstrual leave. Apart from these law points, one needs to understand that menstruation is not a sickness, it’s a normal biological process that a woman has to go through every month – wherein her body has to deal with many physical and mental health issues and it’s evident that she does not enjoy those pains and discomforts. Hence, taking a step towards it will only ease that pain and it’s not meant to discriminate against any section of the society.

While critics also contend that the policy can be misused by women employees, on the other hand, it is also true that behind the growth of any company is a bond of trust between the employer and employee. Therefore, there is need to maintain the faith in the employees and as a preventive measure, a company can have the option of imposing penalties if a woman is found guilty of misusing such benefits.

As far as the question regarding the working of menstrual leave policy in India is concerned, thanks to the social awareness campaigns which are constantly working to address the hardships faced by women, a sense of realization is developing among people. People are beginning to realise that the issues related menstrual problems can’t be ignored.

Efforts must be made to make the workplaces better for all employees, so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. Therefore, instead of directing a woman to adjust herself with all those discomforts, it should be the duty of the organizations to make the work environment conducive to women.

The menstrual leave policy will not only help in reducing the menstrual taboos, but it will also protect her dignity in the patriarchal society. It’s high time we take a step forward to tackle the sensitive issue of menstrual leave. But the only question is – are we prepared to accept the change?

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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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