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Who Says Period Leaves Will Impact Women Negatively?

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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.

Menstruation is a topic that is not talked about as much as it should be. The taboos and myths associated with it are uncountable, making it difficult to bring it in conversations. In August, Zomato announced ten days of paid leave per year to menstruating workers. A buzz was created on social media with people discussing period leaves.

The first contribution that the announcement made was to bring the talk of menstruation into a public conversation. A lot of debate happened on merits, demerits, loopholes, the need for period policy, and it might have helped many to understand periods better and make their opinion.

However, this is not the first time the topic came into discussion. In 2018, the ‘Menstruation Benefit Bill‘ was proposed in the Parliament. It included the provision of providing two days of paid menstrual leave each month to women working in both the public and the private sectors. The bill also proposed the provision of adequate rest facilities for women at their workplace during menstruation.

But at that time, too many people raged against it, giving arguments that many women will misuse the policy. Yes, we are aware that these leaves will be availed by few as an exemplary excuse to miss work, but it does not mean that the one who really needs it will be kept suffering because of them.

In criminal law, Blackstone’s ratio (also known as the Blackstone ratio or Blackstone’s formulation) is the idea that; it is better for ten guilty persons to escape than make one innocent person suffer. If the same is applicable for all heinous crimes, then how can we not let the real, needy benefit from it?

Is it to allow a large number of people to suffer because few might misuse the solution? Can we have trust women as professionals as would have been possibly done had it been men? 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.

Also, it needs to be understood that the menstrual experience is not the same for all women. Different bodies respond differently to the pain and discomfort experienced during menstruation. Women with conditions like PCOD, PCOS, endometriosis, etc. experience excessive pain which makes them very difficult even to move but could not take leave in fear of losing their job or losing a day’s pay which will affect their livelihood.

Dysmenorrhea (painful periods) is extremely common, and it may be severe enough to interfere with daily activities in up to 20 % of women. And some don’t suffer extreme pain every time but have their productivity impacted or feel discomfort in other ways. Given the difficulties and biological complexities that women go through, it is essential that such a Bill be passed and women be given every right to avail of this leave when required.

There is a strong argument that this kind of law/ bill will bring about gender biases in employment opportunities. However, this argument seems to be based on patriarchal, capitalist and misogynist thinking, as employees are only considered as a workforce with no human needs or the ones based solely on standards defined by privileged male lives.

It is essential to remind ourselves that when we talk about equality at the workplace, it means equality of all working conditions for men and women and not just those that can be accepted or rejected based on convenience. Conditions based on equity require a workplace to be considerate of the needs of the diverse people than apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

It’s as simple as a person with special needs might need a platform to move in around his ‘wheelchair’, the office will ensure the work environment appropriate for their wellbeing, (because we have laws to safeguard the special need employees). Similarly, what menstruators are asking for are biological differences like menstruation require some special care, which can never be justified by two-way swords of discrimination & differentiation. For all those who may call this bill as a differential bill, yes there’s a difference but who says it is the negative impact that it hives. This would lead to better productivity and higher morale for working women.

Period leaves also add to the culture of a workplace as it becomes more inclusive. It indicates that the employees are valued and trusted as their needs are considered. Bills and policies like this are steps towards understanding the need of diverse groups (with increasing diversity in the workforce) and helping them in having equal opportunities without compromising because of their bodily needs. And there is no denying the fact that employees put in more effort and find more satisfaction if they feel valued. The work environment needs to adopt changes as per the requirements of participants.

We can create recreational pods at offices to make employees stress-free, but when it’s a woman asking for a health-oriented work culture/environment, it is always met with friction. When will we break free from this Gender prism?

Many organizations that work with values against period leaves were against maternity leaves too. Thus, there is a need to educate and sensitize people, normalizing periods and understating the needs of a person who menstruate; rather than use a uniform scale and say that it will hamper opportunities. The voice demanding rights should not be suppressed because it’s difficult for some to understand the need.

Also, the deep-rooted consideration here is futuristic; it’s like women are now working in every field, where they weren’t in the 1980s, despite the gender bias. Similarly today this bill might look digressive to some but the openness it will bring about in relation to “being able to talk about menstruation” will be nothing but very progressive. Period leaves will lay a path for many more issues and problems of different groups that need to be addressed and to be taken care of.

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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 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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