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Are Women ‘Taking Advantage’ Of Period Leave?

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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.

By Sonali Desai:

In 1947, when India got independence, Japan passed a law granting women the right to take menstrual leaves. South Korea followed suit in 2001, and the initiative came under fire from men who saw it as reverse discrimination.

In India, the Bihar government has been offering two days of period leave to female employees since 1992. However, when the Menstruation Benefits Bill was tabled by a Member of Parliament (MP) from Arunachal Pradesh recently, it triggered a debate while receiving some support as well.

The Controversy

All around the world, despite governments having the best intentions, the menstrual leave policy has only set off fierce debates.

The Head of Human Resources (HR) at Public Relations & Advocacy Group (PRAG), a public relations and communications firm based out of Gurugram, Haryana, Divyanshu Deep mentioned that during the course of a meeting, a female employee, who had been feeling ‘unwell’ for two days, told them about the cramps and pains she faces during her periods, and it prompted the HR to do something about it.

As per the HR norms of PRAG, a female employee can avail single one-day menstruation leave each month. This can be availed even without prior notice to the HR, by just informing a female supervisor. According to Deep, 90% of female employees avail these leaves.

In 2018, to push for a two-day menstrual leave policy, PRAG took an initiative with Ninong Ering, former MP from Arunachal East, to introduce the Menstruation Benefits Bill 2018 as a private member bill for two-days menstrual leave for working women. They also organised a roundtable discussion with journalists, experts and MPs.

Period pain often accompanies the monthly menstrual cycle for many women. This not only causes discomfort, but also debilitates the person from performing daily activities with ease.

“Unfair For Women To Use Their Sick Leaves”

Some arguments against the policy revolve around the lines of ‘gender inequality,’ of “women taking advantage” and of not labelling menstruation ‘a disease.’ There are others who say that not all women have severe cramps during periods, and so an all-for-one policy doesn’t work.

While Millie Mathew, the Documentation Coordinator from CORO India, a women’s rights NGO, agrees that discomfort and pain during periods vary for all women and they have specific needs, she asserted that there is no reason why menstrual leave shouldn’t be paid.

She added that certain needs, which may not necessarily be physical, must be taken into consideration as well.

Furthermore, Mathew reiterated the importance of having a menstrual policy in every organisation. “This should include providing women with the flexibility to take time off, with options like working from home. Several women experience excruciating pain during their periods and it is nearly impossible for them to function normally,” she asserted.

Sensitisation Is Crucial

The majority of employed women in India don’t have the luxury of taking menstrual leave, because most firms don’t have a policy around it.

Myntra, a fashion e-commerce company, doesn’t have a menstrual policy in place, but their employees are allowed to take sick leave if they get period cramps.

Diana (name changed), a quality auditor at Myntra (Bengaluru), highlighted that since her manager is a lady, she isn’t hesitant to ask for leaves, but feels that a separate leave for women on periods “would really make sense.”

On the contrary, Gozoop, a digital marketing and event management company, introduced a menstrual policy on March 8, 2017. Their policy states that a woman can work from home for one day every month during her menstrual cycle. The policy also underlined that the leave does not require approval from the reporting manager, it is a self-approved work from home.

Bansi Raja, Chief Happiness Officer Gozoop (Mumbai), highlighted that sensitising everyone in the right way was instrumental in this policy being a success.

She added that when a woman needs to rest her body while on her period, she has the facility to work from the comfort of her home. She emphasised that they wanted to take away the stress of travelling and being at the workplace for a woman on her menstrual cycles.

She mentioned that the policy was appreciated by the team members, and even the men were supportive. Around 76% of female employees make use of the policy, she informed.

The End Of Taboo

Mohini Basu, Senior Account Manager at Gozoop (Mumbai), pointed out that working with pain was so normalised for her and even the thought of having a menstrual leave never occurred to her. She recalled that the policy was a pleasant Women’s Day surprise in 2017. “Such a policy does act as a motivating factor during your work tenure because you feel you are cared for by your organisation,” she asserted.

Mohini also added that she has never resisted availing leaves, even if she had to ask a male manager.

One thing is definite though – the outrage, as well as support for the policy, has at least started a discussion on period taboo.

About the author: Sonali Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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