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Zomato’s Period Policy Will ‘Give Agency To Women In A Man’s World’

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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.

It’s been more than a month since Zomato announced its period policy which stormed the Internet. With the good, bad, and ugly remarks, the people of the Internet reacted to this inception in Zomato’s policy. Zomato, the global food delivery giant, instituted India’s policy, allowing women and transgender people up to 10 days off per year to combat the stigma that surrounds menstruation in India and comfort the women of the Zomato workforce.”There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave,” Zomato chief executive Deepinder Goyal.

Before I get on with the article, I must add for the few people who must be aware of the menstruations of women, the rupturing of the uterus lining which results in the bleeding for four to five days of the month, I would like to bring to your notice that, menstruation is not a homogeneous experience in terms of the pain experienced, and the respective threshold to tolerate the same widely varies.

With the good, bad, and ugly remarks, the people of the Internet reacted to this inception in Zomato’s policy.

For someone like me, who has never experienced period pain or cramps of the sort that disrupt my mood or work, I had a hard time understanding that it’s not the same pain for women ranging from different medical histories and ages. The medical name of the period cramps of a severe kind is “dysmenorrhea.” The most common symptoms are cramps in the lower part of the belly and/or lower back pain during your period.

Given this heterogeneous experience of menstruation among women who experience the biological phenomena every month from puberty till menopause, the period policy can be anything but an end-all; for the progressive move made by women, who in their company constitute 35% of the total workforce. While a single corporation cannot battle the age-old drawback, in its small capacity, which is limited to the cities and Zomato women employers, it is a step forward to give agency to women in a man’s world; who have always been asked to ‘man up’, ‘pop a pill and carry on’, or ‘just power through it’.

This policy is representative of the women in the workforce and the necessary consideration for biology’s sake. If you kept two poultry animals on a farm, would you expect them to function the same, or would you expect them to perform with the ‘consideration’ to their biological determinism? What would make for an equal ground?

We are well aware of the patriarchal society we live in, the sexism towards women and women at work is unfortunately dated centuries and decades back. Even today, we are fighting for equal rights, equal pay, and equal treatment for merit. While we have seen improvement and take long strides towards a society of equal opportunities for women, we must not forget the inherent lack of agency women have incorporated in India.

Zomato's Period Leave is a welcome decision.

Something as simple as your gender becomes a deterrent in the kind of sector you work in, the projects you land, the opportunities you are considered, even matters as intricate and personal as your marital status, the choice to start a family.

If we don’t want to ask the big questions, just the washrooms’ lack of infrastructure must provide water facilities, sanitary napkins, and wipes. Given this heavy history, which makes its way dragging to the present, the period policy is a small and significant step to normalize humanity’s ‘second sex.’

In the many articles, panel discussions, and tweets that I observed, a very few minds highlighted their nuanced opinion; most were in a hurry to stand in the for or against. However, except for the nuanced opinions, both the extremist for and against did not settle with me. The ones who were ‘for the period policy’ believed so, for it would give them the rest without affecting the sick leaves or the salary deduction.

That makes sense, but it made me wonder if these leaves would still serve the purpose of addressing the comfort amongst employees and reduce ‘shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave’ with just the facilitation?

The solution of period leaves needs to be facilitated by the company’s culture in making women comfortable, too, right?

Secondly, the women who were highly against it, firstly, I do not understand you. For example, in particular, one tweet said that ‘this would put all the work women have done in past to prove their mettle, go to waste,’ and the past no longer is considered to take up challenging work. It’s no secret women have a genital which is different from a man’s. We have a womb inside of us that will potentially conceive a baby. The uterus lining shedding, a biological function, needs certain consideration in a sphere until it happens.

Woman constitute 35% of the total workforce of Zomato. Representational image/ Photo: Deepinder Goyal/Twitter

This organization holds men and women, not ignorance, consideration, and representation welcome women in the workplace to work better. If anything, the period policy empowers women.

Just think of the young girl who will one day enter the workspace knowing that she doesn’t have to ‘whisper’ for a sanitary napkin in the workplace or feel like something has been ‘granted’ to her when she wants to rest during her periods, isn’t that more than a step back, a giant leap forward for the women in the workplace?

The nuanced opinions talked about many things that lead towards the point of how the period policy is only a way forward to providing agency to women in the workplace, a small brick placed in the right direction. At the same time, we still have a whole bridge to make for women’s safety and operation in the workplace.

While the enactment of this period policy is a solution-oriented approach, there is a lot of work which needs to be done in the back-end of it, like the comfort we place in the organization for comfortable conversations on periods, the confidence we place in our women that this would not affect their perception and potential as a provider in the workplace, the menstrual hygiene maintenance in the workplace, etc.

These days what starts as a heated debate on the Internet, even a thing of great importance and dissent, soon loses its steam, and we forget why we were so angry about it and why it matters. Thus, making such decisions in systems have a way of inculcating the change, for real. I don’t know your opinion on the period policy but we must start a conversation at the workplace. This change was brought along for a micro of the Zomato corporation. Still, its function’s efficiency has the potential to be carried forward to different companies and empower their women in the macroscope.

Change starts small; its significance grows with time, with cultures, generations. If taken by more and more corporations, the conversation of the period policy has the power to seep in our work culture, which can then transcend to the much bigger, unorganized sector of work for women. And just like that, we would be set to create a working ground for women in which they don’t have to ‘man up’ to fit in. Beyond the internet heat and the twitter stream, this conversation is too important for us to not engage in and contribute to.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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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