The Policy of Menstrual Leaves

Introduction

The primary thought the word menstruation brings to a person’s mind is period or vaginal bleeding that women go through every month. However, menstruation is not limited to that & many-a-times women go through heavy bleeding, which is often accompanied by pain, cramps, nausea, etc. These symptoms are known as Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) & they have found it out in various studies that this reduces the occupational productivity in women apart from harming the life of a woman.

Although the suffering is not the same for all women some the pain is almost, unbearable & yet they somehow manage their routine works be it related to household or official. This brings to the fore a concern about how do working women manage it at their workplace during the menstruation period. That’s where the concept of menstrual leaves comes from as it aims at providing working women with the option to take an off during these tough periods of pain & suffering. The policy of Menstrual leaves is a critical subject which has not been considered realistically even today in most of the countries.

What is Menstruation?

We also know menstruation as a period, is a biological phenomenon related to females wherein vaginal bleeding occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle. This is because every month, a woman’s body prepares for pregnancy &if fertilisation does not occur, the uterus, or womb, sheds its lining which comes out from the vagina in the form of blood & tissue from inside the uterus. This blood is called menstrual blood.

A woman experiences periods usually when she is in the age group of 11-14 and this menstrual cycle continues until menopause which is the time when period stops (most often after 45 years of age). Periods typically last from 3-7 days.

Besides bleeding from the vagina, there are various other related symptoms because of hormonal changes known as Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which a woman may face before the start of the period & includes both emotional & physical symptoms like Abdominal or pelvic cramping pain, Lower back pain, Bloating and sore breasts, Food cravings, Mood swings and irritability, Headache and fatigue. These symptoms usually go away after the periods start, however, for some women these symptoms are severe& interfere with their lives. This condition is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). There are other medical conditions also which are related to an irregularity in the menstrual cycle such as menorrhagia, endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease.

Effects

Menstruation affects a woman in a variety of ways. Primarily, it affects the reproductive system of a woman along with other organs. Apart from that, it takes a heavy toll on the mental side as well because of the varied range of emotions that women feel during their periods.

As if this was not enough the society rather than trying to sympathise or relieve their pain instead has further piled on the miseries on a woman by discriminating with women based on menstruation. People have not yet come to terms with this biological phenomenon of periods& its social implication is that in many societies even today they consider it a taboo & women have to face seclusion. The least others could do for them is to make them feel good, but it leaves women on their own to suffer.

Policy for Menstruation Across Globe

Menstrual leave is the policy of allowing women to take leave from work (be it job, academics, etc.) During their periods when they cannot go to work because of painful menstruation. It can be a paid leave or unpaid one. The concept of menstrual leaves is not new yet not a generalised one. After World War II, Japan introduced a policy which allows women to take time off for painful periods & the employer is required to grant such leave but is not obligated to pay workers for such absence. However, till date there only a handful of countries around the world which have national or structural policies for menstrual leaves such as Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam and Zambia.

In Indonesia, it allows women 2 days paid menstruation leaves monthly & likewise in Zambia, women are allowed 1 day monthly off as menstrual leave. Similarly, South Korea allows 1 such monthly off since 2001 & have gone a step further by incorporating a policy wherein women must be paid for their unused menstruation leave & also allows students to take menstrual leaves. In Taiwan, it allows women to take 1 menstrual leave per month & if in case the total count of menstrual leaves in a year is less than 3 then those leaves won’t be counted as sick leave.

There are various companies or employers around the world who have incorporated policies related to menstrual leaves at the workplace such as Nike, CoExist (a U.K. firm)&Victorian Women Trust in Australia.

In 2017, Italy also tried to bring in legislation which was aimed at mandating 3 days of paid menstrual leave monthly to female employees, however, it was not passed in the parliament & was heavily criticised by the critics.

Menstrual Leaves in India

Menstrual leave is not an alien concept for India which is evident from the fact that the Government of the state of Bihar has been providing 2 days of special leave every month to its female employees since 1992 & The Government Girls School in the Ernakulam district has been allowing its students to take ‘period leave’ during the time of their annual examination since 1912 yet this subject which is very critical is still neglected in India.

In 2017, KS Sabarinathan member of the Kerala Legislative Assembly urged the Assembly to consider granting menstrual leaves to its employees.

In 2018, Mr Ninong Ering, Lok Sabha MP from Arunachal Pradesh moved The Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017(a private member’s bill) in the Lok Sabha. The bill aimed at providing “two days of paid menstrual leave every month to women working in the public and private sectors and better facilities for rest at the workplace during menstruation.” It also included provisions for extending the benefits to female students of Class VIII and above in government-recognised schools. However, the bill triggered a widespread debate in the entire country & there is no such legislation to date.

A Mumbai-based company by the name of Culture Machine started a ‘first day period leave policy’ for its female employees in 2017 &various other companies soon followed suit like Gozoop, W&D & Industry ARC.

The directive principles enshrined in the Indian constitution also advise the state to enact laws for the welfare of women workers & under Article 42 they advise the state to ensure just and humane conditions of work, including maternity relief. Since, India has the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, an act related to maternity which is a biological process unique to women, hence the legislature should a law related to periods as well which is also a biological process. And the Indian Constitution also allows enactment of a law allowing discrimination in favour of women under Article 15(3) which was confirmed by the apex court with Government of Andhra Pradesh v, P.B. Vijayakumar & Anr. wherein it was held that special provision for women under Article 15(3) means “the special provisions which the State may make to improve women’s participation in all activities under the supervision and control of the State can be in the form of either affirmative action or reservation.”

Arguments in favour of Menstrual Leaves

There is a worldwide debate regarding Menstrual leaves & its need has been supported by a variety of reasons which are as follows:

  • The primary reason which supports Menstrual leaves is that many women have to suffer extreme pain during periods so it is not right to force them to work under such conditions as an Indian study on women suggests that 25 million women suffer from endometriosis, a chronic condition in which period pain is so bad that women nearly pass out from it.
  • This is a biological phenomenon & not a choice that women happily select for them, so it needs to be considered realistically.
  • Allowing such leaves has the added benefit of enhancing productivity as it infuses confidence regarding the company’s ethics & promotes gender equality, inclusiveness & sensitivity towards the needs of the employees.
  • Moreover, it has been pointed out in many research studies that periods affect the productivity & efficiency level of women as they often experience reduced emotional control and decrease in concentration during periods so it’s better not to make them work during those times.
  • Generally, women are paid less than their male counterparts so allowing them such offs won’t harm the finances of private companies.

Criticism

The policy of menstrual leaves has attracted loads of criticism from around the world. The main reasons for its criticism are:

  • It is believed even by many female experts that since women have rightfully fought for their upliftment,& especially in places like India where throughout history women have been oppressed, such policies could deter women’s progress in the workplace.
  • They also believe it that corporates could use this policy of additional days off to justify lower pay or to increase hiring bias against women on account of them being termed too expensive.
  • They also believe it that allowing menstrual leaves could also result in the exclusion of women from decision-making roles as it will worsen the stereotypes women face in the workforce that women workers are too emotional & too unreliable.
  • They also criticise menstrual leaves on account of them fuelling the decades-old prejudice that menstruation makes women unfit for work as in a way suggests that women are uniquely handicapped in the workplace because they have periods.
  • It also criticises menstrual leaves on account of it discriminating against men by allowing a woman to have additional offs.
  • Since not all women face the same issues, such women who have comparatively fewer issues & may misuse such policies can work at full capacity during their menstruation
  • Some observe that even where menstrual policies are in place women have been reluctant to avail such leaves due to fear of shame & proving the reason for availing the leave.

Conclusion

It can be said that since menstruation is an inevitable biological phenomenon that all women go through it needs to properly addressed & accordingly menstrual leave policy should be devised. The policy of menstrual leaves does not promote any form of discrimination or stereotype & rather advances the idea of gender sensitivity. Further, menstruation is not an illness so, it is not equitable to merge menstrual leaves with sickness leaves.

Finally, it can be concluded that menstrual policies should be devised in a way to address other issues also that women face such as lack of a private place at the workplace to change the used menstrual materials like sanitary pads,., proper resting areas, the fear of staining and smell, lack of hygiene in toilets. Implementation of these policies should also be carefully done. The policies should be focused on women of all sections engaged across sector/industry/profession/job roles and should not be aimed at catering to the needs of women engaged in 1 or 2 specific sectors as women from all sections menstruate, irrespective of the work they do. It is the need of the hour to make the workplaces more gender-inclusive as women are an important part of the workforce & all the respective stakeholders i.e. the governments, corporates, society should lend their support for the same.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is Menstruation?

    We also know menstruation as a period, is a biological phenomenon related to females wherein vaginal bleeding occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle. This is because every month, a woman’s body prepares for pregnancy &if fertilisation does not occur, the uterus, or womb, sheds its lining which comes out from the vagina in the form of blood & tissue from inside the uterus. This blood is called menstrual blood.

  2. What is Menstrual leave?

    Menstrual leave is the policy of allowing women to take leave from work (be it job, academics, etc.) During their periods when they cannot go to work because of painful menstruation. It can be a paid leave or unpaid one. The concept of menstrual leaves is not new yet not a generalised one.

  3. Is there any legislation related to Menstruation leaves in India?

    India has the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, an Act related to maternity which is a biological process unique to women. Hence, the legislature should construct law related to periods as well which is also a biological process.

  4. Which country started the policy of menstrual leave immediately after World War II?

    After World War II, Japan introduced a policy which allows women to take time off for painful periods & the employer is required to grant such leave but is not obligated to pay workers for such absence.

  5. What arguments support Menstrual leave?
  • The primary reason which supports Menstrual leaves is that many women have to suffer extreme pain during periods so it is not right to force them to work under such conditions as an Indian study on women suggests that 25 million women suffer from endometriosis, a chronic condition in which period pain is so bad that women nearly pass out from it.
  • This is a biological phenomenon & not a choice that women happily select for them, so it needs to be considered realistically.
  • Allowing such leaves has the added benefit of enhancing productivity as it infuses confidence regarding the company’s ethics & promotes gender equality, inclusiveness & sensitivity towards the needs of the employees.

References

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/menstruation.html
  2. https://feminisminindia.com/2018/02/01/menstruation-benefit-bill-2017/
  3. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/03/health/period-leave-australia-explainer-intl/index.html
  4. https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/perspective/menstrual-leave-ignored-issue-713746.html
  5. The Constitution of India, Article 42
  6. The Constitution of India, Article 15(3)
  7. 1995 AIR 1648
  8. Study of Endometriosis Society of India

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