SHOULD MENSTRUAL LEAVE BE GIVEN IN INDIA?

Menstruation: A Taboo

Menstruation, or Periods, the word itself is taboo in a country like India. When sanitary pads are packed in newspaper or plastic bags, discussing them aloud is difficult for women, especially in a formal workplace setting. Women have to compete with the male population in the workforce, also being at their best every month facing periods alongside. Periods, undoubtedly affect women a lot- One research conducted by the Clinical Evidence Handbook states that – “Almost 20 per cent of women experience terrible symptoms during their periods. Also, it includes nausea, mood swings, depression, cramps, etc. All such results in the hindrance of performing the regular activities.” For the well-being of women and to prevent them from lagging at work due to periods, demand for menstrual leave is on the rise, in India as well as around the world.

Menstrual Leave Around the World

It has been more than 70 years since Japan instituted its menstrual leave policy. Article 68 of the Labour Standards Law of Japan, approved in 1947, talks about menstrual leave. Yet, companies are not required to pay women if they choose to work during their menstruation, even though the law allows women to take their leave during this time. Women in South Korea can take a day off every month due to painful menstruation since 1953. During a 2013 survey, 23.6% of South Korean women took leave, but that rate had declined to 19.7% by 2017. In the past, paid menstrual leave was available until 2004. As of now, women have the right to unpaid menstrual leave once a month in South Korea, and employers who refuse to accommodate them face fines of up to 5 million won. Women in Taiwan are granted three days of menstruation leave annually under the Act of Gender Equality in Employment. The statutory 30 days of paid sick leave are not reduced by these days. Menstrual leave is limited to one day per month for women, and like sick leave, only half of a worker’s normal pay is paid during this time. Several other countries recognize menstrual leave as part of their employee leave policies, including Indonesia and Zambia.

Menstrual leave in India

In India, the Bihar government is the only one that offers women two days of special menstrual leave every year since 1992.[1] Some private organizations, like Culture Machine, a media company in Mumbai, have just started offering menstrual leave. A new leave policy known as First Day of Period  (FOP) leave, has been adopted by the company. FOP is a gamechanger, as women can take a rest on the first day of their period when the pain is usually most intense. Culture Machine’s channel Blush employees can request leave on days when they cannot bear the pain without question.[2] Other companies and start-ups in India that Offer Menstrual Leave for Their Employees are: Swiggy, Mathrumbi, Magzter Wet and Dry, IndustryARC, Zomato, iVIPANAN, Gozoop Online Pvt Ltd, Horses Stable News, FlyMyBiz, Byjus[3]

The Menstruation Bill- forward or backwards?

In 2017, Ninong Ering, a Lok Sabha MP from Arunachal Pradesh, introduced the “The Menstruation Benefits Bill”. In the bill, female employees are provided with facilities to work while they are menstruating, making it a gender-sensitive labour policy. Under the bill, women working in public and private facilities registered with the central and/or state governments would be entitled to two menstrual days off, for a total of 24 days per year. The most important part of the bill is ‘Section 4’ which allows women to take paid leave during their period. During this time, women who work in an approved facility or are students in grades VIII and above are entitled to 4 days of paid leave of absence from school. If a woman chooses not to take paid leave, she can still work and be paid overtime for the time she worked.[4]

Section 5 of the bill, aims to regulate the working hours during menstruation by providing a “30-minute break” twice for 4 days per month. According to Section 6, a “creche facility” is to be provided in every establishment i.e., factory, mine, plantation, or establishment under the government. Under Section 7, it is the duty of the establishment to inform the benefits of the bill to its employees.

Section 8 of the bill mentions “self-perception” i.e., a woman’s ability to foresee the arrival of her periods, and guarantees a woman’s right to take menstrual leave beforehand accordingly.  This section is problematic because self-perception is not an accurate way of determining the menstrual cycle, as it varies from woman to woman, and menstruation dates can differ from the perceived or expected dates. This can lead to women misusing the provision and acquiring leaves for days she isn’t on her periods. The Bill, although made in the interest of the women, is receiving backlash from many women. A section of women seems to be against this bill because they believe that such a law would further the bias against them at the workplace and that they would face unfair treatment in the form of hiring bias, lesser pay, slower promotions and lesser participation in board meetings than currently occurs. Prominent journalist Barkha Dutt (2017) strongly opposes the policy describing it as “clumsy” and “patriarchal”. Claiming that she covered up the 1999 Kargil war while on her period, she argued that despite the implications of the policy, it would backfire and undermine women’s attempts to enter professional roles [5]

Conclusion

Whether India should have a menstrual leave policy or not is debatable. We live in times when workers and employees are struggling to defend and implement every single labour law. Even maternity leave and benefits are enforced only when unions exist to fight for them. Or else, the employers turn a blind eye to such laws. The same is the case for menstrual leave.[6] An alternative to the Menstrual leave policy is a work-from-home facility provided to women during their Periods, which is a norm in many workplaces nowadays. Since the pandemic, work-from-home has become a new normal, having the capability to replace most of the traditional work-from-office practices. Work-from-home during periods can give women work her comfort and flexibility, which will increase the productivity of the employee during this time of the month rather than reduce it. [7]

Author(s) Name: Rudrika Sharma (Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi)

References:

[1] Aashraya Seth, ‘An argument for menstrual leave in India’, (The Time of India, 25 January 2022) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/nonpartisan-perspectives/an-argument-for-menstrual-leave-in-india/>

[2] Tess Sohngen, ‘Indian company Culture Machine Is Offering Paid Menstrual Leave’, (Global Citizen, 17 July 2017) <https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/india-company-offers-paid-menstruation-leave/>

[3] Bhupinder Singh, ‘12 Companies In India That Offer Period Leave To Their Female Employees’, (Indiatimes.com, 26 Oct 2021) <https://www.indiatimes.com/trending/social-relevance/indian-companies-that-offer-period-leave-to-female-employees-552433.html#Culture_Machine>

[4] The Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017 (Bill No. 249 of 2017)

[5] Daniel Fernandes, ‘A Response To Barkha Dutt’s Argument That Period Leave Is Regressive’, (Youth Ki Awaaz, 1 December 2017) < A Response To Barkha Dutt’s Argument That Period Leave Is Regressive (youthkiawaaz.com)>

[6] Radhika Santhanam, ‘Should women be entitled to menstrual leave?’ (The Hindu, 21 August 2020) <https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/should-women-be-entitled-to-menstrual-leave/article62107569.ece>

[7] Ibid