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What’s Actually Problematic – Our Idea Of Productivity Or 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.

Culture Machine, a Mumbai based media firm, became the first to give their female employees an optional first day of the period (FOP) leave.  A lot of other companies and corporate firms followed this policy which erupted a debate whether such a policy is regressive and against the gender equality ideals. Some female employees argue that this policy would further allow the employers to discriminate against them and use this as an excuse to not use female workers or to avoid giving them a promotion that they deserve.

 A 2013 research showed that women take lesser breaks and work more to increase their visibility and social capital at their workplaces, which suggests that women have to do the extra bit to create fair competition and thus having menstrual leave can be counterproductive.

This very idea of workaholism is reinforced and rewarded by the corporates, where not taking leave to which one is entitled to, is seen as a matter of pride, creating a fear in the minds of women which results in them outweighing their pain and discomfort to fit the ideal that corporate places in front them. It is to say that Indian male average is taken as the benchmark of productivity creating a situation of a double whammy.

Over the past few years, several state governments have constructed what they call ‘Pink toilets’, which are women-friendly toilets that provide menstrual hygiene facilities/ Credits: Business Today.

Different Struggles Of Women In The Informal Sector

This opposing argument given by Indian working women in the formal sector is similar to that of middle-class women in white-collar jobs in Indonesia, who saw the provision of menstrual leave as ‘discriminatory’ and ‘old fashioned’ and was of the opinion that it hampers productivity. While Indonesian women engaged in blue-collar work made use of this provision to take rest and fulfil their nutrient requirements and health needs.

Barkha Dutt, a well known Indian journalist wrote in one article, “Sure, our periods can be annoyingly uncomfortable and often painful, but this reality usually demands no more than a Tylenol or Meftal and, if needed, a hot-water bottle” this homogenisation of menstrual experiences, ignores and dismisses the needs of women for whom menstrual leave is a necessity- for health reasons or because they do not have the privilege to work in comfortable offices. In the words of Jincy Thomas,Being denied access to basic facilities when you’re on your period is not your choice”.

Hence, it is necessary to understand that there cannot be a one-for-all policy or lack thereof. The struggles of workers in the informal sector are worse as there is a lot of physical labour involved and no fixed working hours. Not having the liberty to take breaks to take some rest affects their health. Most of the time, there are no safe and private washroom facilities available rendering these women more vulnerable. Therefore, two days paid leave should be made mandatory for all those women who are involved in blue-collar work apart from the orders of making WASH facilities available wherever women are employed. 

The question that still lingers is whether such a step of mandatory 2-day menstrual leave for women in the informal sector will lead to low employability of them. The chances of this being the case are less, as there is an existing vast gender pay gap which results in women labour being cheap and profitable to the employers. Therefore, employers will be reluctant to let go of the profit for the loss that they will incur. 

Legitimate Fears Of Women In The Formal Sector

Women face discrimination at the workplace in terms of getting opportunities, equal pay and promotions. The fear that menstrual leave will further exacerbate the inequality at the workplace is legitimate although it can be worked out.

According to Ms Littleton, “Equality as acceptance means that instead of regarding cultural and reproductive differences as problems to be eliminated we would aim to eliminate the unequal consequences that follow from them”, so instead of refusing to acknowledge that women face discomfort, pain and mood swings requiring leave from work, the focus should be on workplaces be made gender-sensitive and equitable.

The aim should be to create an environment at the workplace where women’s health needs do not come in their way of success and equal opportunities. This can be done by conducting regular gender sensitivity workshops. Besides giving incentives to the corporates which allow a ‘two-day optional menstrual leave ’.

 As there is a lack of research which proves that every woman uniformly suffers period pain, the choice of availing or not availing the leave should be left at the option of women. As research conducted in IT sector of Bangalore shows, out of 58 female respondents, 54 respondents responded that it is hectic and stressful to work a long day on their first day of periods.

There should be a choice to either avail the paid leave and compensate for the work responsibilities by working on other days, or to work from home as the research by Jyothsna Latha Belliappa suggests that despite the workplaces being made period sensitive, women who work in the lower managerial positions have to travel for long hours by public transports to reach their workplaces. 

The third option could be to not avail the leave but be allowed to take breaks in between and have less workload. It is important for the colleagues and the employers to be sensitive to their menstruating employees,

For instance- a Japanese departmental store introduced voluntary period badges for their staff so that if they are wearing it, they can get extra help or longer breaks. Installing Pad vending machines could be an addition in making workplaces more period sensitive. 

A case for Period Leave.

Menstrual Leave: The Death Of Feminism?

Barkha Dutt in the same article also wrote, “But for women to use the fight against menstrual taboos as an excuse for special treatment is a disservice to the seriousness of feminism. Stop this sexism. Period.” While feminism stands for equality between genders, it does not mean sameness. Women need not fear from acknowledging that their reproductive functioning and health needs differ from men, instead, the male standard of productivity and success should be challenged.

The focus of feminism should be in refusing to allow differences in a male-dominated society to translate into discrimination. The aim of menstrual leave is to normalise periods and uphold the needs of women which is not defined by the benchmark needs of men. We can sum this up in the words of Christine Littleton,As the concept of equality suffers from a mathematical fallacy that is, the view that only things that are the same can ever be equal.” 

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program“.
Image credits: Outlook India/ Twitter India
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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, 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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