In a country where both men and women refrain from talking openly about menstruation, it is hardly surprising that there are some communities who even to this day practice 'Chhaupadi', which prohibits women from performing their household chores, isolating them from their family during their menstruation. Despite living in the 21st century, we have failed to create an environment where this natural biological process is acceptable. Instead, the stigma attached to it labels it as a state of impurity.
We see the woman of today working in every field and fighting for their rights such as that of equal opportunity, equal pay, dignified work place, etc. Women have crossed many hurdles to make themselves stand equally with men, but due to the stigma associated with periods, they avoid talking about the menstruation and menstrual hygiene and resign themselves to suffering in silence.
Recently the issue came into the limelight with Zomato, an Indian restaurant aggregator and food delivery start-up, introducing up to ten days of 'period leaves' for all female employees, to build a more inclusive work culture. Soon after the announcement, a debate broke on social media on the efficacy of the move.
There were some who accepted it as a great initiative, since it would promote other companies to opt for such measures and create awareness on menstruation and its allied issues. Whereas some criticize the policy, fearing that in the long term, the company' shiring policy will become even more biased in favor of hiring male employees just to save few period leaves. However, this is a matter of debate and cannot be conclusively answered yet.
Understanding Menstruation and its Impacts:
It is a major concern that a country with noticeable growth in its literacy rate still lacks awareness on female health issues and is unaware about the very basic fact of menstruation as a biological phenomenon. Thus, it becomes very important to understand the impact of menstruation on a woman's body and necessity of providing women with the option to take a day off during their period.
1.When a woman is on her period, contrary to the picture portrayed on mass media, it is not a pleasant time. Women experience not only immense bleeding, but also sudden fluctuations in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle which can affect their bodies on the following ways:
- Depression and anxiety disorders: These conditions often overlap with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Depression and anxiety symptoms are similar to PMS and may get worse before or during the period.
- Asthma: A woman's asthma symptoms may be worse during some parts of menstrual cycle.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS causes cramping, bloating and gas. IBS symptoms may get worse right before the period.
- Bladder pain syndrome: Women with bladder pain syndrome are more likely to have painful cramps during PMS.
2. It is also observed that women tend to undergo changes in their behavior, like getting irritated easily or feeling emotionally low or unstable during their period which affects their efficiency at the workplace.
3. The most important aspect for working women during periods is the availability of hygienic washrooms.It is important to change the sanitary napkin every 4-5 hours, which might otherwise lead to infections and cause problems such as fungal or bacterial infection of the reproductive tract and the urinary tract.
4. Some women experience excruciating pain during their period referred to asdysmenorrhea. This extremely painful menstruation is likely to be linked to an underlying medical problem, such as:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Fatigue and tiredness during the time of period.
5. It is imperative to note that when a woman starts her period at her workplace, which sometimes may happen without warning, it is an extremely embarrassing situation. This is because women are raised to believe that such situations are construed to be awkward and must be dealt with as discreetly as possible. The fear of the society watching a woman with a stain of blood on her pants has been ingrained in every woman since she was a child. It is looked down upon in society, as something of disgust, which is the woman's fault. Unless society accepts it as natural, periods will have to be a secret affair.
Where 'period leave' is already prevailing:
- Women employees in Bihar government services are eligible for two days leave in a month for this purpose, though the same is not specifically stated, since 1992.
- A girls' school in the Kerala had granted its students menstrual leave as early as in 1912.
- Culture Machine, a digital media start-up, with headquarters in Mumbai, implemented a policy that would give a provision to all their female employees for taking a day off on the first day of their periods.
- A digital marketing organization named Gozoop, is also giving its female employees a paid leave on the first day of their periods.
- Horses Stable News, a city-based startup in Bangalore has come up with an initiative to provide paid leave to not just menstruating women but also to males of the company, to help their spouses at home.
Moreover, this issue has been raised in lower house of Parliament as well. Ninong Ering, a Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh raised this issue in the Lok Sabha. He proposed a bill for paid leave for all working women in India every month which also caters the need for having facilities such as providing rest at workplace during menstruation.
Though, there is no constitutional mandate on implementing menstrual leave policies in India but the Prime Minister's speech on Independence Day noted the government's efforts to spread awareness on the importance of use of sanitary napkins and providing it at ₹1 to those in need.
There are some countries practicing it either in entirely or partially,
- Japan implemented period leave right after World War II.
- Indonesia has a period policy which allows women to take leave for two days a month.
- South Korea not only entitles female employees with period leave but they are also ensured additional pay if they do not take the leave to which they are entitled.
- Taiwan grants three days of menstrual leave per year to the women employees.
- Zambian policy of period leave is called "Mother's Day", under which women are entitled to a day off each month.
Challenges to the implementation of period leave policy:
- Companies will develop the notion that females are unfit to perform their duties at the workplace and would prefer hiring men over women.
- In the increasingly competitive world, companies require active and ready participation of employees. Women taking leaves, with due reason, can lead to disturbance in the pace of work owing to which, women will be left outside the framework of decision making, leading to patriarchal oppression at the workplace.
- Some women condemn period leave to be a narrow concept, as it demeans a woman's ability to tackle work due to pain. They feel that it causes a women's working capability to be questioned.
- There is also apprehension that some women might misuse it, taking a leave in the name of period leave for their own personal work. This would breach the trust between an employer and employee.
Organizations, public and private, deciding to grant leave to their employees who experience periods will be a great step. It will be a huge relief to take a day off instead of making excuses, such as not being in a good health, stomach ache, headache, etc. It would create a sphere not just for women but also for the entire society to accept as natural the biological phenomenon of menstruation. The society would become less hesitant in talking openly about it as normalizing period leaves will act as a means of change in the societal mindset. With an ongoing period, women are not in the best of their comfort and health to perform their work, and with a day off, they would be in a better position to take care of themselves. This will not only add on to the physical benefits, but also enhance one's mental well-being, which is at high risk in the competitive workplaces of today.
For women who get the option, it will be up to them to avail these leaves genuinely. Living in a country where issues such as menstruation require uplifting awareness from the grass root level, abuse of such a policy by working women would demean the sole purpose of the leave and foster an apathetical attitude towards menstruation and hygiene in the society.
Promoting menstrual leave along with better hygienic conditions for women at the workplace is an absolute necessity today. A unified policy giving women this right is the need of the hour. The decision of Zomato has ignited and fueled the debate in the mainstream media, which can act as a starting point for progressive policy change. There is need of not just a period leave policy, but also an entire mechanism ensuring a safer workplace for women. To ensure this, companies and/or institutions should provide basic necessities such as clean restrooms within their office and sanitary napkins as a paraphernalia for easy access to women at any point of time. This would not only create a work space where period is as normal as other human phenomena, but would also remove the stigma attached to menstruation in the society.
Views are personal only.