Menstrual leave, a concept gaining traction globally, is an employment policy that allows women to take time off from work during their menstrual cycle. The idea behind menstrual leave is rooted in recognizing the unique challenges and health issues that women face during menstruation.
While this policy has been embraced by several countries, India has yet to adopt this progressive approach towards women’s health and workplace equality. Recently, the topic has gained more traction due to the discussion of the same in the Parliament.
Smriti Irani, the Minister of Women and Child Development remarked that “As a menstruating woman, menstruation and the menstruation cycle is not a handicap, it’s a natural part of women’s life journey…We should not propose issues where women are denied equal opportunities just because somebody who does not menstruate has a particular viewpoint towards menstruation”.
Understanding Menstrual Health
Menstruation is a natural biological process that affects half of the world’s population. Despite its universality, menstrual health is often overlooked and stigmatized. Many women experience physical and emotional discomfort during their periods, including symptoms such as cramps, fatigue, headaches, and mood swings. Ignoring these challenges can adversely impact women’s well-being and productivity, both in their personal and professional lives.
Main Argument of the Opposition and Why Is it Wrong
Critics argue that it might lead to discrimination or that some women may feel pressured not to take advantage of such policies. They say that this will be a setback to all the progress that has been made so far in gender equality. This is not true. The society will never be fully ready to accept the changes that are imperative to attain gender equality but this does not mean that we will keep waiting for every person to get on board. The patriarchal system keeps manifesting itself, and the people who are benefitting from it would never want it to change. But that is irrelevant.
The argument that companies will start hiring fewer women employees if the menstrual leave policy is implemented is incomplete and flawed. If we keep waiting for all the corporations, which mind you, are the flagbearers of oppressive institutions like capitalism and patriarchy, who are the ones enabling other gender issues in the workplace like the pay gap, then such important changes would never be undertaken.
Systems and institutions are built around people, for people, not the other way around. People shouldn’t have to adjust their natural being around these manmade institutions. Most of the systems that exist today have been made around the conveniences and capabilities of men due to the obvious existence of Patriarchy since time immemorial. From car seats to CEO positions, everything is according to men, and for men, made to serve them. Since, now, people are finally understanding that women are also equally humans and so, very much capable of doing all these things, the hour demands that these institutions mend themselves.
The Need for Menstrual Leave
1. Health and Well-being:
Women often push through pain and discomfort at the workplace due to the absence of menstrual leave. Implementing this policy would acknowledge the physical and emotional toll menstruation can take on women, allowing them the necessary time to rest and recover.
2. Increased Productivity:
Contrary to the belief that menstrual leave might lead to decreased productivity, providing women with the option to take time off when needed can enhance overall productivity. When employees are physically and mentally well, they are likelier to perform at their best.
3. Reducing Presenteeism:
Presenteeism, the phenomenon of employees showing up to work while unwell, is a prevalent issue in workplaces. Menstrual leave can help reduce presenteeism by encouraging women to prioritize their health and well-being without the fear of negative consequences.
4. Gender Equality:
Menstrual leave can play a crucial role in promoting gender equality in the workplace. By recognizing and addressing the specific needs of women, it contributes to a more inclusive and supportive work environment. This can, in turn, help bridge gender gaps in various professional spheres.
5. Changing Cultural Norms:
The implementation of menstrual leave can challenge existing cultural norms and taboos surrounding menstruation. It sends a powerful message that women’s health is a priority and contributes to reshaping societal attitudes towards menstruation.
Global and Regional Examples of Menstrual Leave Policies
Several countries have already embraced menstrual leave policies, showcasing the positive impact such measures can have on women’s health and workplace dynamics. For instance, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia have legislation or company policies that allow women to take time off during their menstrual cycles.
Even in India, Bihar was the first state to implement a menstrual leave policy in the year 1992. Similarly, Kerala took a step on January 19, 2023, by issuing an order for menstrual leave in all state-run higher education institutions.
In conclusion, the implementation of menstrual leave in India is not just a matter of convenience; it is a step towards recognizing and prioritizing women’s health and well-being. By acknowledging women’s unique challenges during menstruation, we contribute to building a more compassionate and equitable workplace.
As India progresses towards greater gender equality, the adoption of menstrual leave policies should be a priority, not just for the benefit of women but for the overall advancement of society. It’s time to break the silence, challenge the stigma, and embrace a more inclusive and supportive approach to women’s health in the workplace.