Utilizing menstrual leaves might violate some cultural norms in a nation like India where menstruation is still stigmatised and connected to ideas of imperfection and pollution.
Menstrual leave policies are in place in nations around the world like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Indonesia, Zambia, and Mexico. This policy was first put into effect in 1947 in Japan. Japan as a nation was very concerned about the significant population loss that occurred during World War II. Because they could bear children and repopulate the country, women in their “reproductive ages” came under the protection of the government. The exploitative and abusive working conditions, which include long, hard hours without breaks, are a common theme in these nations. Therefore, women did not require rest while they were menstruating; rather, it was the lack of it.
It is not a new initiative to implement such policies in India. The Bihar government has provided two days of menstrual leave each month since 1992. The Menstrual Benefits Bill 2017 was introduced in Parliament in 2017 by Arunachal Pradesh MP Ninong Ering to give both public and private employees two days of menstrual leave each month. Gozoop and Culture Machine, two Mumbai-based businesses, were the first private businesses in India to offer first day of period (FOP) leave in 2017. Zomato will begin offering its female and transgender employees up to ten days of menstrual leave annually starting in 2020. Since then, similar policies have also been implemented by private businesses like Swiggy and Byju’s.
To understand the debate over menstrual leave’s wider implications, it is necessary to situate it socially and historically. Utilizing menstrual leaves might violate some cultural norms in a nation like India where menstruation is still stigmatised and connected to ideas of imperfection and pollution. The disclosure of a woman’s menstrual status may increase her vulnerability to subtle discrimination because it is seen as impolite and meant to be kept private. Many times, a woman’s role in childcare and housework is blamed for her absence from the workforce. Previously, the Maternity Benefit Act’s (1961 and 2017) enactment demonstrated how such a policy could also support myths that women are more difficult to work with, unreliable, and expensive to hire than men. It has been demonstrated that these harmful beliefs have an effect on how many women participate in and are employed in the formal labour force.
But how does it actually work out in a masculine society like India, which is already widespread with negative stereotypes about women who are menstruating?
People experiencing difficulties should be encouraged to consult a doctor, as the feeling of extreme pain and difficulty during this time should not be normalised.
Menstrual leaves are helpful for people with a variety of menstrual cycle-related illnesses, including mood disorders, endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and polycystic ovarian disorder (PCOD). A policy like this might also promote more candid conversations about women’s health and menstruation and lessen the stigma associated with these subjects.
Menstruation is being medicalized and treated as a “disease” or a “illness” by creating a separate category of leave for a natural biological process. This supports the notion that menstruation is “difficult and painful” for most women, which prevents them from functioning effectively at the time. While having a menstrual leave policy may help some women who struggle with menstrual disorders, it’s important to realise that not everyone who menstruates experiences their period the same way. It is important to raise awareness of menstrual health and related issues rather than viewing menstruation as a “disorder” in and of itself.
People experiencing difficulties should be encouraged to consult a doctor, as the feeling of extreme pain and difficulty during this time should not be normalised. While the majority of women do not want to disclose that they are on their period, some wonder why this should always be the issue. A special period leave might be used as yet another justification for discrimination in a traditional society like India where menstruation is still taboo.Instead of framing the issue as one of menstrual health, the policies should aim to enhance working conditions and increase access to healthcare.
“Dr. Sahya S. Dev is a medical practioner with an MD in Community Medicine. “