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On The Dire Need For An Inclusive Menstrual Leave Policy

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

India as a country has seen quite a few progressive, and sometimes regressive changes in the recent past, and hopefully, the list of progressive reforms would increase in the coming days. However, there are certain issues that have always been a taboo in our country. One such issue is menstruation, more commonly known as periods. It is very difficult to have an open discussion about it as people seem to get extremely uncomfortable and prefer to discuss it behind closed doors.

The debate on the ‘Menstruation Benefit Bill’ tabled by Ninong Ering, a Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha representing Arunachal Pradesh in 2018, triggered widespread discussion on the need to have menstrual leave policy for working women every month. The Menstruation Benefits Bill seeks to provide women, working in both public and private sectors, two days of paid menstrual leave every month, as well as better facilities for the rest of the cycle at the workplace. The benefits would also be extended to female students of Class VIII and above in government-affiliated schools. However, the bill, if passed, would not be path-breaking in any way as a girls’ school in Kerala had granted its students menstrual leave since 1912, and Bihar has had a two-day leave for women since 1992 called, ‘Special Casual Leave’.

The bill needs to cater to girls and women across sector/industry/profession/job roles and not just for women engaged in white-collar work. This bill should equally cater to the blue, white, pink, golden and all the other representations of collared jobs. While discussing or debating about the bill, it is important to not be biased and focus on only one section of women, as women, irrespective of the kind of work they do, menstruate. While the white and golden collar jobs have facilities and luxury that may not be matched up by the blue-collar jobs, the basic coverage of blue-collar workers under this bill (if and when passed) would be a step in the right direction.

In 2016, John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, explained that period pain can be “as bad as having a heart attack”. A 2012 study, titled Dysmenorrhea” by Pallavi Latthe, Rita Champaneria and Khalid Khan, states: “Dysmenorrhea (painful periods) is extremely common, and it may be severe enough to interfere with daily activities in up to 20% of women. One could also talk about the typical stereotypes that are associated with women and ask if the contention regarding menstruation would be the same if men had it too.” A post by Siobhan Fenton in the ‘Independent’ said, “Men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated for abdominal pain. For women, the wait is 65 minutes for the same symptoms. It’s thought that this is because women are seen as exaggerating pain and being ‘dramatic’ due to sexist stereotypes”.

Countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan have been providing female employees with paid menstrual leave dating back to World War II. However, the humiliation and shame that a woman had to undergo just to prove that she was actually on her periods led many women to avoid availing the leave altogether. Different bodies respond differently to the pain and discomfort experienced during menstruation. Given the difficulties and biological complexities that women go through, I think it is extremely important that such a bill be passed and women are given every right to avail of this leave when required.

While speaking of the bill, it is important to keep in mind certain medical conditions that are associated with menstruation such as menorrhagia, endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, and the subsequent considerations of the above-mentioned problems, while formulating the bill in its entirety. It is obvious that such a heated topic of discussion would invite opinions from all corners, and people do have varying opinions on the same. A section of women are not in favour of this bill because they believe that such a law would further the bias against them at the workplace, and they would need to deal with unfair treatments in the form of hiring bias, lesser pay, slower promotions and lesser participation in board meetings, than already prevalent. Can we blame them? No.

This is exactly what needs to be changed. Women should not be punished for their biological framework. If women need to tolerate their pain in silence just to ‘fit’ in and not be outcast then we surely are paddling the patriarchal cycle ahead. It is important to remind ourselves that when we talk about equality at workplace it means equality in the working conditions for men and women and not just those that can be accepted or rejected based on convenience. This is not a choice that women make every month, so if someone finds it difficult to be at work due to conditions not under their control, then they should simply be allowed to avail the leave. The first few Indian companies to have implemented this practice were Culture Machine, followed by Gozoop, and then few others followed suit such as W&D, a feminine intimate health-focused company and IndustryARC, a Hyderabad-based market research firm. A few other progressive companies are in talks to implement the same.

It is essential that for such a law to be in strict practice, the dialogue and conversation around it need to be there, along with well-formulated working policies, as well as labour laws. There is enough bias against women at the workplace and otherwise. So, for this bill to be successfully passed, it is very important that a sensitive, well chalked out and carefully planned policy be incorporated.

In a country where the word ‘menstruation’ is met with raised eyebrows and disgust, proposing a ‘Menstrual Leave’ policy will be difficult, but nevertheless, it is a much-needed change in the right direction.

First published on: shethepeople.tv

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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.

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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.

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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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