New Delhi: In February, Spain became the first European country to pass a law that allows women to take paid menstrual leave. According to that law, women have the option to take three to five days leave if they feel uncomfortable during their periods.
Around the same time as this law was taking effect in Spain, in India, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) a petition filed by Shailendra Mani Tripathi, demanding menstrual leave for all the females menstruating was dismissed by the Supreme Court. The apex court said that the introduction of paid menstrual pain leave in the country could disincentivise employers from hiring women. The court also said that the issue falls under the policy domain of the government and suggested that the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development can be urged to consider the matter.
Pros And Cons Of Menstrual Leave Policy
To know where does India stand when it comes to accepting Menstrual Leave Policy, team Banega Swasth India spoke to some experts and few people in general to understand the issues at play when it comes to implementing a policy on menstrual leave.
Abhishree Choudhary, Research Analyst at Trayas said that the menstrual leave policy in India will be of huge disadvantage for women as employers will prefer hiring men over women, who don’t have to take such leaves.
On the other side, Deepanshi Agarwal, working in one of the MNCs said that employers can consider giving leave to women when they are on menstruation for one or two days. She added,
Leave should be given only if it is very necessary, I think, menstrual leave should not be treated as a compulsory leave or policy, instead, organisations should have hybrid options like working from home or any place, where women feel more comfortable during that time of the month.
Talking for the policy, Aakriti Jalota, Lawyer said,
It should not be treated as discrimination. If people are not hiring women because of this then our society needs an overall change, we need to work on this thought process.
Another person, who wished to remain anonymous said,
I personally won’t ever be comfortable in telling my employer about my menstruation cycle and I think that will be the thought process of many. This is a very personal topic, not many women like it to be disclosed out loud. I think, instead of menstrual leave policy, the working environment for women should be more inclusive and friendly. I feel, organisations should consider hybrid models.
Taking a stance against such a law, Dr. Suneela Garg, Chair, Programme Advisory Committee, National Institute of Health and Family Welfare and Member of Lancet Commission explained,
In India, menstruation is still a subject that has a lot of taboos, myths associated with it. There are still a lot of places, where women are not allowed to enter temples, homes if they are menstruating. In such a scenario, we are talking about bringing a law that will make them sit at home. Just because other countries and now Spain have passed this law doesn’t mean India should do the same. Reason – we need to take into consideration that those countries are way ahead and are very progressive and India still has miles to achieve. Secondly, instead of talking about menstrual leaves, we should focus on menstrual benefit policy that includes all females, even schoolgirls and provide them with safe sanitation, menstruating products and look at safe disposal practices. We are living in a time, when we are promoting girls in sports, innovation and technology – sectors where females were not included and at the same time, we are talking about giving them leaves for menstruation. In COVID scenario as well, we saw so many healthcare workers, warriors working towards benefiting the society at large. If the menstrual leave policy comes in place, it will work against such scenarios, most importantly work against women empowerment as there will be loss of many productive days.
Expressing a contrary view, Dr. Sania Siddiqui, Menstrual Health Activist and Health and Wellness Coach, Founder & Director Humjoli Foundation said India should look at Menstrual Leave Policy as it is much needed. She said,
Although menstruation is a normal biological process, it is often accompanied with severe abdominal cramps, nausea, back and muscle pains, headaches, etc. Additionally, these symptoms can be debilitating for women who suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Endometriosis. Nearly 68% of women experience moderate to severe period-related symptoms. This indirectly hampers the productivity as well as the overall wellbeing of the menstruating individual. Period leaves under a well-defined and implemented policy will surely reflect well on the overall health of a menstruator and is also likely to see better employee retention, improved working relations and increased productivity.
According to Dr. Siddiqui,
Since men and women are physically and physiologically different in some aspects, to look at this through the lens of inequality is fallacious. The implementation of such policies has nothing to do with gender inequality. Any policy that is formulated for the benefit of one gender is a step towards the betterment of the workspace as a whole.
Highlighting the other side that policymaker should look out for, while drafting the Menstrual Leave Policy, Ashwini Bhatt, Associate Director, Swasti Health Catalyst, a non-profit health organisation that was established with a focus on achieving public health outcomes for those who are socially excluded, said,
Menstrual Leave Policy will definitely be a welcome move to all the women who are in the workforce or looking to enter the workforce. However, this might be limited only to those in the organised sector and may not benefit the women workforce in the unorgansied sector, which takes nearly 94% of the employment pie in India. Most often, the women employed in the unorganised sector work in environments which are more exploitative in nature, like construction workers, domestic workers, vendors and sales professionals, and with no laws governing them, this policy will hold no use unless it includes them. Also, I think, mandating paid leaves might put small and mid-size employers at a disadvantage. Rather than a leave policy, what can be mandated for organisations to have practices that will work best for them.
Menstrual Leave Policy: The Indian Perspective
The discussion on the need to have a menstrual leave policy for working women is not new, it has been on since 2017 when the ‘Menstruation Benefit Bill’ was presented in the Parliament with an aim to provide safe and healthy working conditions for female employees. But the bill has not been passed till now.
In India, there are few states like Kerala and Bihar that have Menstrual Leave policy for females in place. Girls’ schools in Kerala began granting its students menstrual leave from 1912, according to the menstruation leave policy by Kerala Government. And in January of this year, the state government has extended the leaves to all female students studying upto state Universities. In Bihar, government offices have had special period leave for women for two days since 1992 under ‘Special Casual Leave’. Over the years several companies in India like Zomato, Swiggy, Mathrubhumi, and Magzter have created provisions for paid period leaves for their female employees.
Team Banega Swasth India also spoke with companies, who have adopted the menstrual leave policy to understand the impact of such leave policy. Swiggy spokesperson told NDTV,
The policy has seen an overwhelmingly positive response among our female employees. There has not been any impact on our work and deliverables, instead, we feel, female employees feel more productive and safe at work with this policy in place.
Zupee, the first skill-based online gaming platform has also rolled out a period leave policy recently, talking about the policy and the need for it said in the statement released by the company,
By implementing this policy, we are not only acknowledging and safeguarding female colleague’s health, but also, raising awareness to avoid menstrual stigmatisation. We believe that this policy will enable our female colleagues to better manage their health and strike a balance between personal and professional life.
Menstrual Hygiene In India: In Numbers
According to Census 2011 population data, about 336 million girls and women in India are of reproductive age and menstruate for 2-7 days, every month. Yet millions of women across the country still face significant barriers to comfortable and dignified experience with menstrual health. As per the Menstrual Health in India Report – Landscape Analysis, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:
– Girls do not consistently have access to education on puberty and menstrual health.
– In India, 71% of girls report having no knowledge of menstruation before their first period.
– Girls often turn to their mothers for information and support, but 70% of mothers consider menstruation “dirty,” further perpetuating taboos
– Girls do not have consistent access to preferred, high-quality MHM products. Almost 88% of women and girls in India use homemade alternatives, such as an old cloth, rags, hay, sand, or ash.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.