This article is written by Shreya Tandon, a law student from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS), IP University. The article points out the underlining change in India’s work culture by bringing up menstrual leave policy. In a country where menstruation is coupled with disgust and raised eyebrows, India intends to bring a ‘menstrual leave’ policy that will, however, be toilsome but will bring a fundamental change in the correct direction.
When it comes to changing working conditions for women whose quality of life and productivity are impaired with menstruation-related symptoms, the biggest hurdle is the stigma surrounding menses. As a result of feeling uncomfortable discussing their symptoms, many women feel the need to come to work even when they are not able to work productively and efficiently. Instead, they have to pretend they are fine or just having a bad day or feeling sick.
Thus to curb the unnecessary taboo, the parliament intends to bring Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017. This bill has gained heat and has become a subject of prior attention across the globe. While some feel it is a progressive step, others are of the opinion that it raises certain questions that it defeats the point of having equal work for equal pay and it is biased.
The main question that arises is, in a country like India, will women feel comfortable enough to avail the period leave amidst all the social taboos? Our culture and society needs to think beyond gender and stop seeing the normal biological process as something that women should be ashamed or embarrassed about but should address the real problem by minimizing the taboo through voicing their opinions by ‘let’s talk about periods.’
The phenomenal judgment on the Sabarimala issue, wherein the menstruating women have now been allowed to enter the premises of the temple is one such milestone example set by the Indian judiciary to help in empowering the status of women in the society, but still, there is a long way to go.
‘Menstrual leave’- a new term added in the dictionary of people’s vision
Menstruation is a normal biological process, particularly observed in females in which they bleed 4-6 days every month. It is a dynamic bodily process that every woman’s body experiences differently at different ages. Some may experience painful cramping, fatigues, backaches while it may not be that difficult for other females. Menstrual leave is an optional paid or unpaid leave, in which a woman may take a day or two off from her employment while she is menstruating. Employers can play a big role in uplifting and normalizing the healthcare of women in the workplace.
In some countries leave taken on such grounds is paid whereas in some countries this step is still not recognized and is awaited. India too is on verge of giving importance to such crucial issues. From introducing the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 by the Ministry of labour and employment to the Government’s initiative in making sanitary pads tax free and revising the rural area guidelines for menstrual hygiene scheme, one can easily see that India is a progressive nation that not only values females but also pays attention to their dire needs by eradicating ‘period-poverty’. Now, the next step to be pondered upon is the hardships faced by women at the workplace due to menstruation and what should be done about it.
Status of the proposition of menstrual leaves in India and in other countries
This might sound like news but some of the countries are already ahead in this and now India is also just a step away to implement such a policy that will benefit all the working women of the society.
Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017
- The Menstruation benefit bill, 2017 was recommended by Ninong Ering, who is a member of parliament from Arunachal Pradesh.
- He suggested that there shall be a minimum two days paid leave for women working in both public as well as private sectors during the time they are menstruating or they shall be allowed to work from home.
- It also seeks better facilities for women in the workplace.
- The bill should also be extended to girls studying in schools from the eighth class and above.
- These leaves shall be provided to each and every woman without fail and none shall be discriminated on the basis of work they do. If a woman working in a company is granted paid menses leave, the same benefit shall be enjoyed by a woman labourer working in a factory.
- These leaves will be in addition to sick leaves.
- The bill, however, has not yet been taken up by parliament but there have been many who have welcomed this proposal while many have rightly spoken against it.
A list of countries that offer menstrual leaves
There are a number of countries that grand menstrual leaves to women such as:
- Indonesia- two days per month paid leave.
- South Korea- Menstrual leave policy was initiated since 2001, it states women must be paid for unused menstruation leave.
- Taiwan- grants paid three days leaves per month which is not to be equated with sick leaves.
- Zambia- one day off per month.
- Italy- it is the first European country to grant three days paid period leave.
- Japan- this policy came into being in 1947 and now finally Japan obligates paid menstrual leave to women.
There are ongoing debates in the Philippines, France, Brazil, and Hongkong to follow up with the same policy.
The positives and the criticism surrounding the policy
There are two lines of arguments on this topic. One, many women security personnel do feel that ‘first-day period leave’ is helpful in beating the extreme pain that comes with menstruation and the embarrassment of having to deal with blood-stained pants. Two, seeking an excuse is a huge disservice to our clarion call to have more women in the services, as it would be used against the aspiring women. Both the pros and cons are to be considered as to have a proper outcome and implementation.
The argument against menstrual leaves
It has been argued by the critics that women have been working on their period week as well and the idea of menstrual leave is only because of the ‘feministic wave’ that is currently running in society.
It is being contended that this bill may lead to gender-discrimination as women will be awarded the salary even after taking a day or two off. The policy will create a huge pay gap between male and female employees in the working sector.
Another argument is that by this the women will become more vulnerable as companies would prefer to hire male employees rather than female ones. Why would a company want a female staff member who can take off at least twice a month except for the sick-leave and can also go on maternity leave nonetheless, the company cannot cut her salary instead the female staff is legally eligible to get her full salary.
Lastly, it will worsen the stereotypical image of women in the society that they are too sensitive, too emotional, or even too expensive to be hired as employees.
The argument for menstrual leaves
The topic of menstruation often created a pin drop silence in the room. The vague and smirk face expressions are not only humiliating but the wave also creates insensitive awkwardness. It has always been a surprisingly uncomfortable and impolite topic that is hardly discussed with males both at school and in the workplace. Why does society give a hard time to women in understanding she is in pain because of her periods?
The contention regarding the discriminatory nature of the policy can be challenged upon by the constitutional provision under Article 14 that talks about the notion of ‘Equality before law’ and if there are rules that supervise the behavior of all the employees, there shall exist equality on equal footing. As men do not menstruate, women given no choice shall not fall behind because of their biological structure. The menstrual leave policy is also guarded by Exception 15(3) of Article 15(1) of the Indian constitution which gives power to the legislative body to make rules and special provisions on positive discrimination that would benefit the victims of patriarchy that is, women and children. Further, Article 42 of the Indian constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) empowers the state to make sure that there are just and reasonable conditions of work as well as maternity relief for women.
If measures for giving importance to women are taken at the workplace, it will not only facilitate a culture of empathy but will also lead to openness within the organization that will provide a safe and comfortable environment to women employees. Providing paid leaves should not be considered as a special treatment but should be seen as a basic need of every woman. It will be a bonus and a step-forward of recognizing women as normal human beings.
Initiatives that are taken by India to curb the menses stigma
The following are some of the remarkable initiatives taken by the Indian government and Indian companies to promote women’s healthcare in the working sector, that will not only maintain their dignity in a patriarchal society but will also help in reducing menstrual taboo and stigma surrounding it. The initiatives are as follows:
- Surprisingly since 1992, the Government of Bihar is the only Indian state that is offering women two days’ leave to menstruating women. The woman can take off on their respective days without mentioning their prior reason.
- The Government of Kerala is also raising its voice regarding the introduction and implementation of paid menstrual leaves.
- In 2017, a Mumbai-based media company named ‘Cultural machine’ was the first in India to introduce period leaves for employees. The company consists of 75 female employees. The company has also started a petition on Change.org for the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Human Resource Development to implement the FOP(First day of period) Leave across India. So far, the petition has received over 20,000 signatures.
- ‘Gozoop’, Mumbai based digitally integrated communication company also implemented menstruation leave policy.
- ‘FlyMyBiz’, a digital media company in Kolkata will be offering extra leaves to women employees from 1st January 2019. This has been in operation for one year now and has become the first company in Kolkata and third company in India, after two Mumbai based companies that are Culture machine and Gozoop. Samyo Dutt, who is the founder and CEO of the company said that all women employees will be getting 12 extra holidays as their period leaves.
- On 8th August 2020 Deepinder Goyal, the CEO of a very well-known food delivery startup, ‘Zomato’ announced that all women and transgender people working under at Zomato are entitled up to 10 days extra pay leave per annum, under the new period policy. This would not be included in the category of sick leaves. In their view, this will foster a culture of trust, truth, and acceptance.
- On the heels of food delivery aggregator Zomato, Bhautik Sheth, founder of a firm in Surat named ‘iVIPANAN’ on 9th August 2020 declared 12-day period leaves for their women staff with immediate effect. The firm was founded in 2014 and has a total of nine employees out of which eight are females.
- A very renowned brand, ‘Nike’ has been providing period leaves to its female employees since 2007.
- ‘Thomson Reuters Foundation’ – A digital media company in India is offering “menstrual leave” to female staff as part of its official policy and calling on authorities to legislate to give all working women the option of taking the first day of their period off work.
- ‘Horses stable’ a startup that was started in Bangalore is now providing its female employees with two-day menses leave. Not only this, but they also provide an allowance of Rs 250 to help them throughout the stressful period.
- ‘ARC’, three-year-old market research and strategic consulting startup in Hyderabad has already paved its way for period policy.
- The New Delhi based company named, ‘W&D’ which is also known as, ‘Wet and Dry’ is starting with menstrual leave policy. This company makes female hygiene products such as intimate area washes, tampons, and so on.
- The Chennai based startup ‘Magster’ has also joined the race for uplifting its women employees. The company currently comprises 65 employees out of which 20 are females.
- ‘Mathrumbi’, leading Kerala’s media group of the TV channel has brought period leaves that will benefit about 50 women presently working under the channel.
We have reached an age when science and religion have evolved in ways never before either. We live in an age that offers us promises and opportunities. It’s needed for the hour that attention shall be paid to women’s health at both public and private places where women work.
The Menstruation benefit bill has gained momentum and has mixed views. The people against it put forth the arguments that it might increase the pay gap between male and female employees. There is a need to embrace biological differences by both men and women. Menstruation is something that happens only to women This is a part of the uniqueness and it does not necessarily imply gender-inequality.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: