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Should Menstruators Get Paid Leave?

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.

According to me, menstruators should most definitely get paid menstrual leaves. Menstruation and the various symptoms of it are entirely biological and are neither in the person’s control nor to their liking or dismay.

According to many research studies, it has been successfully proven that some of the menstruators have a menstrual disorder called ‘dysmenorrhea‘; it means a difficult or painful period, which is so severe, in most cases, that regular activities such as getting up from the bed may also seem unbearable and exhausting.

This discomfort does not always occur only during an ongoing episode but sometimes also before menstruation begins (Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS). Representational image.

A characteristic manifestation of dysmenorrhea is an extremely painful period or menstrual cramps – menstrual cramps have been proven to be as agonizing and unpleasant as heart attacks, so severe period cramps cannot even be described.

Keeping aside dysmenorrhea, menstruation burdens fellow menstruators with hormonal imbalances too, hence, the mood disturbances, irritability and restlessness, fatigue and insomnia, headache, cravings, tender or sore breasts, diarrhoea, constipation (pretty weird combination, right? But it’s true), low-back pain, anxiety and depression.

This discomfort does not always occur only during an ongoing episode but sometimes also before menstruation begins (Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS). The symptoms felt during this period of PMS and menstruation is used against menstruators and it worsens the stereotypes, glass ceilings already present in the workplace.

So, menstruators go through this discomfort years after years, on a monthly basis for a good 10 days at least, including during the period of PMS. It is also very important to remember that a lot of menstruators have certain medical conditions associated with menstruation like Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, Fibroids, Menorrhagia, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. 

It gets really burdensome for them to deal with this and they strictly require a leave, at least for the sake of humanity. Just reading about it sounds like menstruation is pretty exhausting and troublesome, right?

Well, it absolutely is! It is a hotchpotch of everything that you did not ask for but got it, anyway. Thus, the dire need for menstrual needs. Now coming to, “why should it be a paid menstrual leave?”

If our work laws were a little more liberal and flexible, there would have been a higher possibility of work-from-home scenarios, in lieu of working from 9:00 AM in the morning to 5:00 pm in traditional workplaces. In fact, the efficiency level has been confirmed to be comparatively low in the latter.

If there was a marked presence of work-from-home scenarios, the need for paid menstrual leave would not have been so crucial, since, at one’s own place, it is a lot more comfortable and convenient, unlike in traditional workspaces, where it is only uncomfortable and problematic in every way.

But even in the long-run, denying someone paid leave for something that is neither planned nor an accident but just the work of biology, seems pretty mindless and ignorant.

Nevertheless, a more prime argument for paid menstrual leave is the fact that all menstruators do not come from affluent backgrounds. Many come from adverse situations and or are living in such situations, so they are not in a position to take a day or two’s leave and lose out on their salary or daily wage.

India has five percent of its 1.3 billion people population living in extreme poverty and below the poverty line. The states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Jharkhand fall under the category of the poorest states in India. Women and other fellow menstruators make up for the majority of the 5 percent of people living in difficult conditions. Hence, the urgent need for paid menstrual leaves. It is a human right to live a dignified life, be treated with respect and work in favourable conditions.

If there was a marked presence of work-from-home scenarios, the need for paid menstrual leave would not have been so crucial.

Companies in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and a lot of other South-East Asian countries are providing their employees paid menstrual leaves but; this has been only offered to females. Although this is a great initiative and an example setter for other countries, the leave is not very inclusive as it should be since we are in the era of third-wave feminism, which is all about inclusivity and embracing different people. It is all about bridging up the already existing gaps in the world and doing away with discrimination.

Menstruators should be able to access paid menstrual leaves and as encouraging and empowering it should and will be, there will be a lot of dirty politics and worsening of stereotypes, gender discrimination and equality. But, the important thing to remember is, the fight against gender inequality will not be won if we do not acknowledge the differences between different genders.

How can one achieve equality if we just disregard the reality of the situation, if something is biological, it is usually out of our hands and in this case, menstruation really is, so being blind to the truth will not help in our battle against gender inequality.

Equality is not always about treating everyone in the same way regardless of their various needs and requirements. We are human beings and each one is different yet similar in some ways, so sometimes equality should be about treating people in such a way that the outcome for each person can be same; which is appropriate assistance and support to the people with different needs (here paid menstrual leave for at least three days every month) to ensure that this assistance will help them achieve similar outcomes like everyone else ( here cis-heterosexual men employees).

Menstruators are biologically different and it is high time we accept it, embrace it and treat it like a process that brings discomfort and not like an impure cursed taboo that should not be talked about but taken advantage of against menstruators.

If something is duly taken advantage of to keep certain sections of human oppressed, I do not see why we should not stand up against it and fight for it, instead of just let things be because that is how it has been.

If maternity and paternity leaves can exist because of a biological process, I think a paid menstrual leave should definitely exist. Menstruators need to reclaim control of their cycles and the rights that they deserve. If we want a more just and equal world, we really need to accept the truth, that differences exist and they should not be taken advantage of but made peace with so that we can work something out for the collective good in society.

Unless we take a stand for the people in the disadvantage, no change will occur, so I firmly believe that we – menstruators deserve a paid menstrual leave.

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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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