With many companies coming up with period leaves, debates have begun and cooled down, but 'is it right?' is still being asked.
Menstruation has been a 'hush-hush' topic in India since time immemorial. With changing times, the bubble of secrecy around the issue is gradually melting away. But still, a large section of our society does not have access to proper menstrual hygiene because it is still a taboo for many.
Results from the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health' Menstrual Hygiene Preparedness Among Schools in India(2020) show that less than half the girls were aware of menstruation before menarche. A study by UNICEF and the National Institute of Urban Affairs (2020) revealed that adolescent girls living in poor urban settings are deprived of proper menstrual hygiene facilities. One in every two girls is denied sanitary napkins and tampons during the menstrual period because they cannot afford them. The numbers have been long there, but the fight continues.
High Time For Making Period Leave Mandatory
Women activists and employees feel that it is high time for the companies to start this initiative to break the stigma around menstruation and make workspaces inclusive for women. Talking to the Logical Indian, Divyangi Yadav, a software engineer, said, "I think period leaves are important and at least optional or flexible period. Every organization should provide leave, whether it is government or private sector. In my experience of working in two organizations, period leaves are not usually provided, and also, I have not asked for it. But I think this scenario exists as the leaves are limited, and they can't give us leaves every month for this purpose."
Recently the Edtech startup Scaler announced 12 days leave for all employees who menstruate in addition to the regular leaves. The company has added itself to a few companies providing period leaves in India. In 2020, Zomato came up with the initiative to give ten days off per year as period leave. Making workspaces conducive and equitable is on the rise, but only a few organizations have adopted the period leave initiative.
Many believe that periods hamper work efficiency, and period leaves make their workplace more conducive. Rakshita, a journalist, informed, "It is high time that companies start giving period leaves. My company has this provision, and this was the first thing my boss told me when I started working. Periods are challenging for most women, but the experience differs from person to person." She believes that if leaves are given to women, it will make their workspace more inclusive. "Since most women go through a lot of pain and are less efficient, it will be good if they are given off on those days", she added.
Period Leaves In Unorganised Sector, A Far Fetched Dream
As per a report in Firstpost, India has 94 per cent of women working in the unorganized sector. Menstruation has been a topic of secrecy in the informal since many years. Tanisha Pandit, a menstrual hygiene activist, told the Logical Indian that introducing period leaves in the unorganized sector is a long journey. "I feel if these big corporations take the initiative of bringing in period leave, then they will surely impact the rural sector also. The condition in the informal sector is worse than we think. Many men are not even aware of periods in the first place. The basic thing is that these women and men need to be educated about the issue; let's start there", she added.
Many women in this sector are daily wage workers running their households, making it impossible to leave. Sky Social NGO has worked closely with the Madhya Pradesh government to implement proper menstrual hygiene measures in rural areas. Srishti Pragat, founder and chairperson of Sky Social, said, "Nearly 94 per cent of women work in the informal sector of this country. Many women are daily wage earners, and thus they do not enjoy the privilege of even a day off. Menstruation has been a personal issue because these women cannot talk about it. On the construction sites, they do not even have washrooms for these women, let alone a safe and hygienic environment." She suggested that the government take an active role in this matter, bring up policies, and make the necessary amendments to the present Labour laws.
Is Period Leave Fair?
The issue of period leaves has always sparked debates in the nation. The question of such leaves being fair is an age-old one. Many people believe period leaves to be discriminatory in workspaces. It is generally argued that period leaves are against the constitutional right to equality, Article 15 (1). However, Article 15(3) of the Constitution gives the state the power to make special provisions for women and children.
"Once we stop considering a woman's issue, this issue of it being unfair would end. It needs to be seen as a human issue, and everybody responds to it differently. Tanisha Pandit said that many women go through a lot of pain and even get themselves injected with painkillers," Tanisha Pandit said.
A 2017 survey by Maya(women's fertility and health tracker) found that about 50 per cent of women in India have irregular menstrual cycles, and nearly 68 per cent have severe cramps, fatigue or bloating problems,The Indian Express reported. Debates have been held over the misuse of these leaves. Zomato's founder and CEO, Deepinder Goyal, also announced that the period leaves should not be abused in any manner, News Minute reported.
Women believe that the mindset behind giving period leaves also matter. "It is essential that people understand the intention behind giving period leaves, and they should not be given for the sake of it but to empower women", Srishti Pragat said. She added that people should know the correct meaning of equality. "Men should be involved in this conversation to let them know that it is not against them", she continued.
Contrary to that, some people do hold different views. Chirag Agarwal, a business owner, informed that he does not give any such provision to his employees; however, they are free to take leave whenever they want. "It is discriminatory for men and older women as they cannot take those leaves, but it is not a problem. There is a lot of discrimination out there, and if it is doing good to someone, then why not have it."
Commenting on Zomato's decision of giving period leaves, journalist Barka Dutt had tweeted to show her discontent over the decision.
Many had raised strong objections to Dutt's views. Twinkle Khanna had also put up an Instagram post to show her support for period leaves.
Sorry Zomato, as woke as your decision on #PeriodLeave is, this is exactly what ghettoizes women and strengthens biological determinism. We cannot want to join the infantry, report war, fly fighter jets, go into space, want no exceptionalism and want period leave. PLEASE.— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) August 11, 2020
I reported Kargil with my period and no sanitary pads because my bag got shelled. I took a combiflam for the pain and carried on,using toilet paper. If i had wanted period leave, id never have been sent to report the war.— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) August 11, 2020
'Are My Periods Going To Cost Me My Job?'
Women in India are forced to ask when talking about period leave. The data from World Economic Forum Gender Report 2021 shows women labour force participation from 24.8percent to 22.3 per cent. The share of women in technical and professional roles dropped to 29.2 per cent, and only 14.6 per cent of women were reported to be in leadership roles. It also revealed that only 8.9 per cent of firms have top female managers. The gender gap in India has widened up to 62.5 per cent, with India standing at 140th rank among 156 nations. The gap is seen to be the widest in economic, political dimensions, Mint reported.
On this, Pragat added that companies in India are apprehensive in giving women leadership roles because of the family's responsibilities. "Government should make laws and policies that would ensure less discrimination on these grounds", she suggested.
The Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017
The proposal for four days of paid period leave for every woman in public and private sectors was presented in the Parliament in 2017 by Ninong Ering, a member of the Lok Sabha from Arunachal Pradesh. The bill states that any woman undergoing menstruation shall be given an overtime allowance if they opt to work instead of leave, and they would also be given 30 minutes of rest periods twice a day for not more than four days. It also proposed a punishment of imprisonment for a specific period along with a fine.
Bihar is the only state in India providing two days of period leaves to its women employees since 1992. Companies like Byju's, Zomato, Culture magazine and a few others are part of the corporate circle providing period leaves in India.