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:
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:
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:
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,
Challenges to the implementation of period leave policy:
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.