Should Companies Have Menstrual Leave Policy For Women?
There has been a raging debate over the past on social media about the fact that the food delivery company, Zomato, has decided to grant its female and transgender employees 10 days off in a year as “period leave”.
The headline of a report in The New York Times said, “Company’s paid leave for Period takes on a workplace taboo”.
The CEO has made the announcement on email to the employees . He said, “There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to apply for period-leave, you should feel free to tell people on internal groups, on email that you’re on a period-leave for that day”.
He further said, “Its a note for the men – if our female colleagues are expressing that they are on period-leave, it shouldn’t make us uncomfortable. This is a part of life and while we don’t fully understand what women go through, we need to trust them when they say they need to rest it out. I know that menstrual cramps can be very painful for a lot of women and we have to support them through it if we want to truly have a collaborative culture at Zomato”.
Funnily enough, it has split opinions among women on whether or not this is a good step. There are many women who believe that period-leave is necessary because of the kind of pain some women go through. Whereas, there are others who believe that this would actually cause women to be further shunned in the workplace as the Human Resource (HR) teams might shy away from hiring women by presuming them be a further liability.
On being asked as to how many women experience very severe pain or cramps during their periods to a point where there are not able to function, Dr. Kiran Coelho, Gynaecologist said, “Well it’s not that severe a problem even though statistically 20-90% women experience period cramps, but to have very severe cramps that necessitates them to take a period leave would be hardly 5% of all women. Everyone get period cramps, the younger you’re, the more are the period cramps. As one gets older and has children, period cramps become less and less.”
Regarding if the move of granting period leave is fruitful she said, “I would say the younger women would welcome the menstrual leave, while the older one might find it unnecessary”.
I, however, don’t agree with what Dr. Kiran said. Does extreme pain only be justified when one is bedridden? It doesn’t have to be extreme to be considered for a leave.
Sick leaves don’t just include chronic illnesses.Patients suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) live their lives with excruciating pain and suffer unbearably during that time of the month.
And older women with menopause suffer from severe complications as well such as, Osteoporosis, the condition that causes bones to become brittle, leading to an increased risk of fractures, weight gain and so and so forth.
The concept of Period or Menstrual leave was started in Japan in the 1920’s when women were given 3 days leave in their labour contract. Many countries like Indonesia, Thailand still have that 3 days’ period leave mentioned in their contracts.
One of my closest friends have been diagnosed with PCOS last year and since then her periods have been intensely painful, it’s difficult for her to be able to move for two days. She had gone through almost all the medications available, that’s necessary, but in vain. She has been working in a private company for years now and the conversations about menstruation is still not normalised in a lot of organisations.
Because she isn’t self-employed, she was deprived from taking any kind of leave during her periods. She craved to inform her boss or colleagues, whom she has been working with, that her pain has become unbearable and that she needed to take a period-leave for a day or so. On the contrary she had to make an excuse of getting a flu or being unwell for other ‘appropriate’ reasons.
There are women who experience menstruation twice in a month, girls with PCOS don’t stop bleeding relentlessly for 20-25 days; many even shy away from consulting a doctor or taking medicines to stop bleeding.
“It’s not just cramps” but, twisting of organs, backache, nausea, vomiting, headaches, gastritis, breast tenderness, diarrhoea etc. for most girls and women.
What’s most tormenting is the need to change pads every hour incessantly until the bleeding lessens. Most of us have a nightmare even to sit straight while wondering if I have leaked.
I have always been a “pop-the-pill-and-get-to-work” kind of a person. While being very ambitious, I’ve never wanted to give up on whatever was happening on that day. But there were days when I would screech in debilitating pain in my lower abdomen for hours on my bed, while the antispasmodic pills refused to work. Never would I be in favour of women coming up with excuses to justify their menstrual pain.
Smuggling up of pads in our pants have become customary for us now. The pain that women endure while suffering from PCOS or Endometriosis is unbearable for a lot of women. I am at that stance where definitely there should be a leave but with conditions and conveniences. One size won’t fit all.
Organisations should be asked to conduct surveys in order to ascertain the number of women in each companies or sectors suffering from PCOS, ask the women and transwomen who are actually menstruating before coming to a decision of the number of leaves to be granted in a year. A blanket of 10 leaves can be accorded abruptly in a year but that might not suffice the number of leave requirements for all the organisations.
The 12 days of sick leave that are mandated for all the employees are for the times when they are sick, have gone/would go through a surgery or when they are sprawling on the deathbed (apparently).
If women exercise these 12 days as period-leave, then it’s evident how they would run out of options for their problems beside menstruation.
To put it in perspective, our anatomies are different. So when we say that there are 12 sick leaves it’s applicable for both the genders sans any exception, but the point is that men doesn’t menstruate.
So the thought of menstruation being a part of those sick leaves is utterly unfair.
Sick leave, in the first place, has been included because patriarchy is deeply rampant in the entire work culture; men get sick as they work for hours, smoke, drink etc., and hence, it has been included to increase their productivity by taking care of their immunities.
In fact, one of the Padmanufacturing companies haschristened their product as “Whisper”, indicating how secretive the idea of menstruation is.
In that sense, I am extremely grateful to be blessed with a father who has never, for a moment, felt awkward in asking me about my cramps and in fact, comforts and pampers me more during that time of the month. He is the one who gets me the packet of Stayfree from the market and stock it for the month later. I was never felt uncomfortable by him even during the time I had leaked, with stains on my trouser without my knowledge of it.
Moreover, the work environment for a woman in a workplace, in terms of sanitation, is extremely poor, not only in the unorganised but organised sector as well. In the rural areas, girls refrain from attending schools because of periods; they get urinary tract infection as they don’t drink enough water due to the lack of proper water facilities in the schools.
Emphasis should alongside be made on facilitating better working conditions, empathizing with women on all other aspects beside granting period leave. Sanitation, clean water, good toilet for women is significantly the need of the hour now.
There is an interesting essay by Gloria Steinem “If Men Could Menstruate” where she stated, “What would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?”
Clearly menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much. Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, stag parties would mark the day.
Sanitary napkins would be federally funded free. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, but everything about cramps…….” Women can very well ask for equality while accepting and embracing their differences. When they ask for menstrual leave, they are not creating any boxes, but are already in it. Napkins/Pads are still smuggled around, conversations around periods are still hushed and the worst of all, it is still seen and treated as a problem.
But women can’t solve these problems on their own. Men have to be a primary part of the discussion. Hence, it is extremely important for people to discuss biology and the entire system of ‘menstruation’ in the same manner as they discuss any other ailments. I strongly believe that the key to understand each other better is through “conversations”.
I disagree with the idea, “no uterus, no opinion”. We should have meaningful conversations with each other, with different capacities. There’s a research which states that if more women are added to the workforce in India, our GDP would go up to 20% more, exponentially.
Ensuring that women aren’t dropping out of their workplaces for the extremely crappy environments that have been created over the years, is fundamental.
Include women in decision making, in conversations and have them decide what is best. That way one would increase one’s productivity, run healthier companies and so and so forth.
It’s no longer about whispering; we should be vocal about the facts that we have our ‘periods’.
It is screamingly uncomfortable for us, but we still want to work, we want spaces that will allow us to be the best we can possibly be.
Be it 6 or 10 days of period leave, but let’s at least start having that conversation and unleash the term “menstruation” from the idea of being a “taboo”. Let’s celebrate “menstrual blood” in the same manner as we celebrate the birth of a child, because without the “menstrual cycle”, there would be no life.
[Images from different sources]
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