In an effort to fight the stigma around menstruation, food delivery company Zomato said on Saturday, August 8, it would give female employees, including transgender people, up to 10 days of "period leave" per year.
"There shouldn't be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave. You should feel free to tell people on internal groups, or emails that you are on your period leave for the day," Zomato chief executive Deepinder Goyal said in a blog post.
"Zomato understands that men and women are born with different biological realities. It is our job to make sure that we make room for our biological needs, while not lowering the bar for the quality of our work and the impact that we create," he added.
Zomato is reportedly the most high profile organisation in India to institute the policy.
"How many times have you had to send a message to your team saying "unwell today – taking the day off" and having to answer concerned questions about your health with a feeble "stomach upset / weakness etc." when you really wanted to say "on my period, terrible cramps – need a heating pad, some chocolate and a lot of green tea (or something stronger) so I'm taking the day off?" Goyal asked.
"At Zomato, we want to foster a culture of trust, truth and acceptance. Starting today(Saturday), all women (including transgender people) at Zomato can avail up to 10 days of period leaves in a year," he added.
Here's to making Zomato a little more inclusive every day. Thank you to all the women leaders at Zomato for driving this change. https://t.co/K2l9287QBj— Deepinder Goyal (@deepigoyal) August 8, 2020
Under this, menstruating employees can avail one period leave for each menstrual cycle, and are entitled to a total of 10 days per year as period leaves.
Explaining why the company has specified on 10 days a year, Goyal said, "Why 10? Most women have 14 menstrual cycles in a year. Adjusting for the probability of you having your periods on a weekend, you can now rightfully avail 10 extra leaves compared to men. You can only take one period leave for each menstrual cycle."
Meanwhile, the company said that while this leave has been introduced to build a more inclusive work culture, it stressed not to abuse these leaves or use them as a crutch to take time out for other pending tasks.
"These leaves should only be availed if you are really unable to attend to work. Do not abuse these leaves or use them as a crutch to take time out for other pending tasks," Goyal said.
"Take care of yourself – regular focus on fitness and diet has a positive impact on every bit of your physical and mental health," he added.
Furthermore, as "a note for men", Goyal said, "our female colleagues expressing that they are on their period leave shouldn't be uncomfortable for us. This is a part of life, and while we don't fully understand what women go through, we need to trust them when they say they need to rest this out. I know that menstrual cramps are very painful for a lot of women – and we have to support them through it if we want to build a truly collaborative culture at Zomato."
In case employees face any unnecessary harassment, or distasteful comments if they apply for a period leave, the company has advised them to report to the prevention of sexual harassment (POSH) team.
"In case you face any unnecessary harassment, or distasteful comments from men or women about the fact that you applied for a period leave, or that you are vocal about it, please report them to our prevention of sexual harassment (POSH) team will quickly spring into action," Goyal said.
While the Mumbai company Culture Machine was the first in India to introduce period leaves for employees in 2017, the policy received a "lukewarm response."
According to a report by The Print, only 8 per cent of the women were using their period leaves and many were concerned about backlash since women also availed maternity leave as well.
Media house Mathrubhumi also has a period policy. "While some called it a great step, there were others who thought of it as an extra leave for us to 'enjoy'," an employee from the organisation had told the media.
Taboo Around Menstruation In India
India has nearly 335 million menstruating women and adolescent girls. Millions of women and girls still face discrimination and health issues due to a lack of awareness surrounding menstruation in the country.
According to a report by NDTV, nearly 23 million girls drop out of school every year when they start menstruating due to reasons such as lack of menstruation hygiene facilities, availability of sanitary napkins, and "logical" awareness about menstruation.
One of the most common menstrual disorders is Dysmenorrhoea, or pain due to menstruation, and is experienced by a majority of women. For some women with ovarian cysts and endometriosis, the pain is usually much more severe.
According to a study on 'menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls in India', which was a systematic review and meta-analysis by van Eijk, only 55 per cent of girls considered menstruation as normal. Meanwhile, 54 per cent girls stated that their mother was the primary source of information about menstruation.
The study further found that 77 per cent of the girls faced restrictions in visiting places of worship as well as touching religious items or praying during menstruation.
In 2018, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court overturned a decades-long ban on women of menstrual age entering the Sabarimala temple in of Kerala, leading to a debate about women's rights across the country.
"Women and girls are eagerly seeking forums or platforms to voice their opinions and challenges. Menstruation to a vast demographic still remains a taboo topic. In this context, men and boys can play an active role in supporting women and girls to share their needs for effective Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). In many cases as men and boys are a big influence on decision making a woman's experience of menstruation can be drastically altered for the better," Shireen Vakil, head of the Policy and Advocacy unit of the Tata Trusts was quoted as saying by Dasra, a non-profit organisation.
"Collaborations between community, government, NGOs, media, policy makers and researchers is a key requirement for changing the narratives on menstruation in India," Vakil added.