Period Leaves: Necessity For A Faction

Zomato, a restaurant aggregator and food delivery company, has been dominating the headlines of the tabloids since August. The reason? A landmark decision of introducing ‘period leaves’ for their women and transgender employees. On an annual basis, 10 leaves can be availed under this category. Regardless to say, this has stirred a full blown debate on and off the screens.

Though most of the people on Twitter have expressed support and elation over this progressive move, a faction of people have opposed the whole idea. The most common arguments that one will hear from the ‘against’ camp are about how women managed these with their sick/casual leaves. Or how the employers would be less inclined to include more female staff in the workforce, or consider them for an important position. Or, how there is a scope for the female employees to abuse these leaves and get an easy way out of commitments. 

Managing periods with casual leaves is a very ungrounded argument, for the labour policies vary drastically across different Indian states.  Under the Shops and Establishment Act, an employee working in Maharashtra has no sick leaves per say, and can avail a paid leave of upto 5 days for every 60 working days. On the other hand, an individual working in Assam can avail 12 sick leaves annually and has 16 earned leaves after 12 months of continuous service. This shows the glaring irregularity in the leave policies, which makes it very difficult for female employees of various regions to take menstrual leaves. Corporate sector needs to consider this, and seriously! Meanwhile, the government needs to find a ubiquitous solution too. As, this affects a significant working population of the public and private sector. The Menstruation Benefit Bill, introduced by Ninong Ering, a MP of Arunachal Pradesh in 2017, though didn’t see the light of the day, opened up the large avenue for consideration for the government. Bihar government has set an example here, by availing leaves of two days per month categorized ‘for biological reason’ since 1992.

We, as a society, have a flawed understanding about menstruation. As a result, most of the men, and sometimes women, consciously or otherwise, fail to acknowledge that menstrual conditions are far from universal. Each female experiences different kinds of pain and/or discomfort during their menstruation phase. Individuals with medical conditions endometriosis,dysmenorrhea, PCOS etc. suffer the worst brunt. Sometimes, even the travel to work elevates the pain and makes it unbearable. And trying to justify the gender bias on the basis of biological processes is a matter of regressive judgement. Now, a question might be possessed, is it constitutional? Especially when our Constitution stresses on equality. The answer is an undebated yes. Article 42 of the Constitution mandates “provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.” As a mid way solution, some companies have the provision of work from home, for those who have the desk jobs. This allows the female employees to work comfortably at their own convenience. Also, with the technological support available, attending meetings are also a possibility and in many companies, a reality. A bit of co-operation can go a long way for inclusivity of all the employees without any compromise on their health and well being. 

The naysayers made a special point regarding the field jobs, for it is more demanding and requires being in action all the time. Regarding this, journalist Barkha Dutt has argued how female employees have to work double hard in certain fields to prove their merit than their male counterparts. And the introduction of ‘period leave’ might leave them with an obvious disadvantage. While this is a valid concern and hence needs further discussion and deliberation, the moot point boils down to how this leave is an OPTION for those who are in dire need of it, and hence does not account for the blatant generalization that is being made.

At present, open conversation and sensitization about menstruation is a requirement. Because, the stigma attached with the leave prevents many women from availing it. With the taboo about menstruation in India, many women actually choose pain over the shame and embarrassment! The de-stigmatisation also creates an understanding and sense of empathy in the male counterparts. At the very least, individuals availing the leave deserve a ‘benefit of doubt’. Also, not everyone has the same pain threshold, so it is upon the females alone to decide if the pain is overbearing enough to avail the leaves. 

It is high time that menstruation is viewed just as a biological process, shedding all the social taboos attached to it. Then only, proper and inclusive discussions can be held regarding the validity of these leaves, where women from all spheres of economic development have their contribution.

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