Applying for a period leave raises several eyebrows regarding a woman's health, participation in the workforce and gender equality in workplaces. Almost all the people who face menstruation as a natural phenomenon has experienced period cramps in their lives. The debate took centre stage in 2017 when a Mumbai based media start-up included a paid period leave for its women employees on the first day of their period each month. A study mentioned that 30 to 40 per cent of the total menstruating population suffers from period pain every month. Studies prove that period cramps are a reason for a loss of nine days of productivity in a month.
Every individual has their way of reacting to the onset of their monthly cycles. While some people might experience cramps, some might have extensive mood swings, some might feel lethargic and have a lot of cravings, and some might not just feel like getting out of their beds. For a very long time, menstruation has been perceived as taboo, especially in Indian society. The biological phenomenon has always remained a hush-hush topic among elders in society, and the same teachings have transpired to the younger generation.
What Is The Current Scenario?
However, several workplaces and educational institutions have begun to talk about the issue in a progressive step, thus normalizing it. Schools organize menstrual hygiene camps for young girls attaining puberty, and workplaces have begun to facilitate their 'women' employees with paid leaves on the onslaught of their menstrual cycles. The provision of paid period leave is an empathetic decision that several corporates are taking to sensitize the familiar workforce and address the needs of employees belonging to all genders.
In August 2020, food delivery giant Zomato had announced that its employees who menstruate would be provided with a paid leave of up to 10 days to manage their period. The move was an effort to address the stigma related to the phenomenon in the country where menstruation is considered dirty and impure due to traditional beliefs.
The Need For Acknowledging Biological Differences
Paid period leave fosters inclusivity by accepting and acknowledging the biological differences between different genders. In a fast-paced economy like ours, there is always pressure to perform better than the next person. Women and other marginalized genders that experience menstruation have to face an increased level of competition under normal circumstances. However, during periods these genders have to battle internal issues to perform up to the mark in workplaces. Stress and anxiety of not being productive enough can also lead to an increase in menstrual cramps.
On average, a woman bleeds for nearly 3000 days in her lifetime, which is a significant number of days. They face extreme hormonal changes that can affect their productivity at work. South Asian countries have been the torchbearers in this fight to provide the menstruating population with paid leave. For instance, in Indonesia, employees are given an additional two days off in a month. In comparison, South Korea entitles women to ask for a reimbursement for not availing of their menstrual leaves, and they can take up three days of leave that would not amount to their sick leave.
What Are Other Countries Doing?
Japan has been way forward concerning addressing the needs of its employees; Since 1947, the country has a policy in which companies allow their women employees who experience excruciating painful periods to take time off for their well-being. Women and other genders who have periods every month have to suffer other symptoms like body aches, back pain, muscle pains, nausea, headaches, etc. These conditions worsen if they suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
However, companies need to be very careful while providing benefits like a paid period leave for women. The source of funding for such leaves should be well thought of. If period leaves are similar to maternity leaves and benefits, the companies will start incurring increasing costs of hiring women employees, which could have long-lasting implications. India is a country where women already have a minimal population employed in the organized workforce.
While this might not lead to the firing of women employees, it might affect discrimination at workplaces. Moreover, it might widen the gender divide in salary payouts to women employees because the employers would at least want to cover the cost of employing a woman employee.
Concerns Regarding Menstrual Leave Policy
Several experts have argued that the menstrual leave policy can be misused easily. They fear that taking leaves from work would become a common phenomenon, and workers would always want to take the easy way out, citing biological reasons. To counter this, researchers have pointed out that if workers would have to lie to get their way, then such organizations are already toxic for their mental health. Secondly, it also highlights the need for a better understanding between the employer and the employee.
The execution of the paid period leave policy is where the ball lies currently. It should not be that because women are availing such benefits, men are being hired over women to manage operations in a company. It might be viable for companies to discuss increasing the number of sick leaves for their employees but making sure that the count is at par for all genders. This would also benefit women to claim their leaves in whichever way they feel comfortable.
The pandemic has already made the unthinkable a reality. Almost all the workforce has shifted to remote working. Therefore, when things improve, the companies can stipulate the number of days their employees can continue to work from home. This provision would allow women to work from the comfort of their homes and still be as productive. Additionally, it would manage the cost of hiring a woman employee.
While the intention behind advocating this cause might be praise-worthy, one cannot overlook the side effects such a policy can have on the beneficiaries' careers. Several women who avail of maternity leave are vulnerable to suffer at workplaces after joining when their leave ends. The initiative of making workplaces inclusive should not lead to further problems for women and other genders who already face several issues.