Period Leaves- Is it what women want?


The idea of period leaves for women has become an intensely debated topic in the current social sphere after Zomato, a company which provides restaurant reviews, guides and food ordering services, announced on 8th August 2020 that they would be providing their female employees an additional 10 days of period leaves.

One could imagine that the arguments on period leaves might be between men and women on a gender basis, but even women do not seem to have a consensus on the matter, with imminent journalist Barkha Dutt tweeting that she would not have been given the task of reporting the Kargil War if her employers were to consider her menstrual cycle. Opinions are polarised and it has become a difficult task to find a middle ground.


Societal construct

But the discourse between men and women are on different terms. Men cannot experienced period cramps, bleeding or the mood swings that women generally suffer through during their periods and feel that such additional leaves would be discriminatory against men. The women who are opposing the idea of period leaves are doing so because there already exist multiple social barriers for women to be employed and are not given the same treatment as men in the workplace and such additional leaves may lead to further divide among the gender ratios in the workplace.

It is a fact that every woman has different experiences during her periods. While some women experience excruciating pain during the first few days of their periods; other women have relatively comfortable periods. But all women do feel discomfort during their periods.

Some women feel that factors like compulsory maternity leave already creates a prejudice against female employees and period leaves will add on to it. Some believe that it would lead to loss of privacy and leave room for sexist remarks in the workplace. Another stigma around menstruation is that women are “unclean” during their periods and period leaves could leave to discrimination surrounding this, leading to women feeling uncomfortable during their periods.

Many others, including us, feel that women should not be ashamed of having periods. Some women feel debilitated during periods, and go through writhing abdominal pain; their individual experiences should not be disregarded. Women suffering from PCOS or PCOD go through additional discomfort during periods and have to be prepared for their periods on unexpected days since they have irregular menstrual cycles. It can also be argued that this leave may increase the productivity of women because if they are getting adequate rest when it is required, they can be more enthusiastic and energetic to get back to work the next day.


Are period leaves a modern concept?

History of paid menstrual leave dates back to a period as early as World War II. Countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan have been far-sighted regarding the issue and are entitling female employees with menstrual leave. Historically, Indian societies have been marked with the feature of vibrant liberalism. A girl’s school in the State of Kerala had granted its students menstrual leave as early as 1912. If you feel that period leave is a bizarre idea and does not fit in the Indian culture, it might surprise you that women employees working in government offices in Bihar have been eligible to avail for 2 days of menstrual leave per month since 1992. The human resource manual of Bihar provides an extra 2 days leave for women employees per month. It does not specify this leave as period leave but a leave for “biological reasons”. This leave for women is in addition to all other eligible leaves.


Legislative Benefits

The Menstrual Benefits Bill, 2017 was introduced in the Lok Sabha, to provide leave and other facilities to female employees during menstruation at their workplace. This bill not only benefits women who are employees but also female students. In the case of employees, it provides a four day paid leave during periods. It also provides the benefit that if women wish to work during their period leaves, they should be paid overtime allowance for the same. In addition to this, women working during their menstruation (four days as per the bill) shall be entitled to thirty minutes of rest period twice a day. There is one requirement in this bill similar to that in the Maternity Benefits Act, which requires employers to set up crèche facility in establishments employing 50 or more employees, (the number of female employees is not specified.) The penal provision of this bill lays down that any defaulter under this act shall be imprisoned for one month extending up to three months and a fine of not less than Rs. 10,000 which may extend up to Rs. 50,000.

Now, if we analyse the provisions of this bill, it has a very progressive approach. However, four days of paid leave will considerably reduce the number of working hours for women, which may reduce their chances of promotion based on working hours. The bill gives a ‘too good to be true’ scenario for women in India. The true picture is that this will increase discriminatory policies for hiring women within the organisation. This will enable biological differences to come in the way women’s progress.

Another unfortunate response to period leaves is that women will somehow misuse the benefits provided under this policy. This supposition is so absurd that it leaves an impression that women cannot be relied on for their own experiences and are more prone to lie about them.


Conclusion

The legislative intent of any Bill or Act which aims to progressive sadly may not resonate with the society, the clichéd notion that “India is not ready for this” has been uttered on multiple occasions whether it be equal property rights for women, Uniform Civil Code or ban on triple talaq. It is a long-standing belief that women are inferior to men, terms such as the fairer sex or weaker sex are synonymously used to describe women. But if changes have to be seen on a large scale then just passing the buck to companies or legislators will not suffice, the society needs to shrug off the stigma around menstruation and periods and treat it as the normal biological process of the female human body. Outdated traditions such as not allowing women in temples or kitchens during their periods must be discarded altogether and families must educate girls and boys from a young age about periods and not consider it a taboo or consider it as an unholy act. A progressive and accepting society can help bring in the changes we want to see in achieving gender equality one step at a time.


AUTHORS- VIDUSHI SHARMA & OMKAR APUGOL


References:

1. Anvisha Manral, “What critics of 'period leave' ignore: Fallout of inherently gendered world impacts every aspect of women’s lives”, First Post, 17 August 2020, https://www.firstpost.com/india/what-critics-of-period-leave-ignore-fallout-of-inherently-gendered-world-impacts-every-aspect-of-womens-lives-8704361.html.

2. Human Resource Manual, Bihar https://www.bvm.bihar.gov.in/Application/uploadDocuments/Docs/HR_Manual.pdf.

3. Menstrual Benfits Bill, 2017., http://164.100.47.4/billstexts/lsbilltexts/asintroduced/2651LS%20As%20In.pdf