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This article is written by Aman Sagar, who is pursuing a Diploma in Labour, Employment and Industrial Laws (including POSH) for HR Managers from LawSikho.

Introduction

It is agreed by most scholars that women in Ancient India held the most elevated position. Imparting of education was similar to men and women and they even actively participated with men in philosophical deliberations. Some were brahmavadinis, women who devoted their lives to scriptural study, illustrated the Vedas, the holy scriptures of Hinduism. Women of Kshatriya clan received martial arts education and training in arms such as the famous Rani Laxmi bai who fought for her people with a newborn child on her back when her husband, the Maharaja of Jhansi died and went on to become a symbol of resistance to the British Raj for Indian Nationalists. The Vedas, Upanishads, and other scriptures give abundant instances of women philosophers, politicians, teachers, administrators, and saints.

Even in the epic history of Mahabharat, the noble Bhishma Pitamah asserts, 

“The teacher who teaches true knowledge is more important than ten instructors. The father is more important than ten such teachers of true knowledge and the mother is more important than ten such fathers. There is no greater guru than mother.”

Menstruation is a naturally occurring process and almost all women at the workplace who are in their childbearing age experience this cycle every month. In fact, at any given time there would be about 1/4th population of women who would be undergoing this process. Menstruation, the subject has always been surrounded by taboos and myths that exclude women from many aspects of socio-cultural life. 

Current scenario

We are right now living in a generation where there is no significant gender differentiation and more and more women are joining the leadership ranks calling for a seat at the Board offering a new and unencumbered perspective. While it has been well established that hiring women at the workplace brings about multiple advantages such as improvements in innovation and creativity, reduced employee turnover, a culture of empathy and appreciation towards one’s job, etc., a woman has to go through numerous issues like painful cramping, backache, headache, irritability, weakness, bloating and many more problems on the days of their menstrual cycle, and while coming to work in this condition proves to be a distressing experience for them. 

Working with such physical and mental imbalances in those days not only affects the women’s health but also has an undesirable impact on their work productivity. Keeping all this in mind, it becomes the responsibility of the employers to make appropriate provisions and arrangements at the workplace to promote a higher sense of inclusivity for women and re-look towards the workplace design and offering certain necessities to enhance the needs that may lead to improved focus, productivity, wellbeing, confidence and all the things that contribute to how effectively a woman works.

In a male-dominated society, such as ours here in India, females in the majority of the cases are forced to take the back seat in their careers putting their ambition on the line with the reasoning that she is responsible for the upkeep of the house, cooking of food, taking care of the children while the males would enjoy a much higher status and wouldn’t be bothered by any of this. Everyone is aware of the elephant in the room, but very few corporations and individuals treat this subject as the need of the hour.

Recent developments and differing opinions

About a few months back we heard Zomato, the food delivery aggregator announcing that all their females and transgender employees will be given 10 days all paid period leaves per year in order to eliminate the stigma around the subject matter which has been around for centuries. There are several other organizations that have joined the movement and started offering this leave like Magzter, Mathrubhumi, Cultural Machine. 

This is a debatable topic based on a whole lot of women supporters who felt that it is just a physiological process and not every woman has that excruciating pain which leads them to awkwardly ask their reporting bosses for a leave stating some form of sickness or other excuse and just not admits that they’re undergoing periods. Some of the folks also highlighted the fact that undue advantage of such facilities could be taken easily by faking pain, sickness, etc. The critics say that the preconceived notion that women are weaker than men might prove to be true if the menstrual leave policy is implemented.

However, there is a general feeling by the female supporters that a mere acknowledgement that your employees have periods and caring about them could yield innumerable benefits. This is an opportunity for employers to listen to their female employees which will help in forming an unbiased, effective policy in place.

Ever since the onset of COVID 19, this topic has been taken care of by itself with employees in the majority of the organisations are working from home due to the high risk of infection and maybe a potential disruption to the continuous workflow but what after the pandemic is over? Employers really need to ponder over this subject matter and start taking steps towards this necessary change.

Recommendations

Here are some of the workable ways by which an organization can make a menstrual friendly workplace-

  1. A clean and private place for women to change sanitary products and availability of water to clean themselves allows women to be stress-free and concentrate on work better.
  2. Providing tampons and biodegradable disposal bags along with specialized disposal bins. This should not be restricted to only workplaces. Similarly, even schools and colleges can also embrace this necessary add-on required in their designs.
  3. Providing a locker where one can keep spare clothing if required
  4. Work from home can be an option that can be made available or maybe a 0.5 leave as an option if not offering full 10-day optional leave the way Zomato has done.
  5. It may be worth exploring having an on-site health clinic available for employees. This would allow people to attend routine screening appointments and improve gynaecological health and wellbeing. This step is likely to reduce work absenteeism and increase productivity for the company in the long run. In fact, even a doctor on video call could also be an option.

Conclusion

Organisations, irrespective of whether they are large, medium, or small in size, in order to attract and retain the best and the brightest of the talent must embrace this as a best practice as soon as possible. The benefits of this practice will far outweigh the costs associated with the necessary adjustments. Find below a list of benefits an organization will enjoy by incorporating this practice-

  1. Lower attrition levels, 
  2. Higher sense of engagement and retention of key talent, 
  3. Higher workplace productivity,
  4. Creation of more and more as your brand ambassadors,
  5. Better sense of wellbeing amongst teams.

The landmark judgment on the Sabarimala Temple issue where the menstruating women were allowed to enter the premises of the holy temple is a classic example. This verdict has certainly helped the females to feel empowered but the light at the end of the tunnel as far as what the ground reality exists is quite far ahead.

In the end, the organisations must really give this practice a serious thought and embrace this positive change carefully in order to create a culture of openness and empathy towards women and take a big step towards gender equality/ neutral behaviour, and help in boosting their brand equity by leaps and bounds. 


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