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.
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?