Deep slumber of secrets – menstrual leave 

Deep slumber of secrets – menstrual leave 

Abstract – From ancient times, women have faced discrimination for their gender, treated for what society could take from them instead of what they could give them in return, from being treated as goddesses to mere pleasure material and someone who does all household chores without complaining. The birth was celebrated, but the usual unusual dichotomy in the way society looks down upon the menstruating woman is taboo to be hidden, not spoken, a deep slumber of secrets.

Introduction: In India, around 88% of Indian girls and women here rely on homemade contraptions during their periods, such as old rags, hay, sand, ash, etc. Further, around 53% lack the basic amenities of having a toilet, increasing violence during the night and raising safety questions again. Around 30% of girls drop out of school when they start to menstruate in North India. These figures still speak volumes; the deep-rooted stigma curbs any possibility of having an open, honest and constructive conversation around menstruation, and women will not be able to adequately utilize the resources and comfort if they are drowning in period blood stigma.

Namely, the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram adolescent health strategy has exited their helping hands by offering affordable sanitary pads and providing menstruation information to girls via counsellors – 70% of women said they could not afford to purchase Sanita acids, as per the Gates Foundation report. Supreme Court ruling against the Sabarimala temple regarding prohibiting women of menstrual age, barred from entering the premises of the temple in the name of tradition, and then the subsequent 600 kilometre-long “Women’s Wall” protest for gender equality, centuries-old perceptions surrounding menstruation brought a change. The need for acknowledging the pain that women go through and that it is just a natural biological process instead of being treated as a bane or disgust is very high in their homes, workplace and society at large.

Other jurisdictions: Japan started this menstrual leave for employees in 1947, and Indonesia gives menstrual leave for the first two days. South Korea has a policy of 1 day of paid leave per month. Taiwan – request for three days leave in a year limited to 1 leave per month, further deducted from their sick leaves available, both availed at half rate of employees’ salary/pay. Zambia offers one day each month without any valid medical certificate in this regard. Spain is the first European nation to introduce this leave as part of their legal regime. Employees can avail of 3 – 5 leaves on producing doctor’s notes, and the state social security system would back the same financially.

India – Bihar and Kerala are the only Indian states to have introduced the menstrual leave policies for women. Bihar’s policy was introduced in the year 1992, which allows employees two days of paid menstrual leave every month. Recently, Kerela announced that university students under the state’s higher education department will be granted menstrual and maternity leave. A Kerala school has also introduced a similar system. In 2015, an online and offline campaign, Happy to Bleed, was launched, aiming to break the secrecy and stigma against acknowledging one’s Period in public. Another campaign, Pads Against Sexism, initiated in Germany and taken up by students in Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi and other universities across the country, is tempted to break the secrecy around menstruation and address age-old cultural taboos against discussing one’s body in public. Culture Machine, a media start-up in Mumbai, introduced the policy of giving women leave on the first day of (their) Period (popularly called “FOP Leave”) in July 2017. Soon after, the Kerala-based media company Mathrubhoomi followed suit, and Kerela’s private ( unaided ) schools instituted a similar policy for teachers. The Bollywood film Padman starring actor Akshay Kumar (a biopic of Arunachalam Muruga-xantham, who created an award-winning low-cost sanitary pad for the Indian market) also addresses menstrual stigma.

The Menstruation Benefits Bill of 2017′ and the Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill of 2018 are the non-successful efforts seen in the past by the Parliament to grant employees Menstrual leave. Those in favour of Period leave argue that it is a mark of an organization’s sensitivity to the needs of female employees. They cite chronic conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is associated with severe and unmanageable pain and symptoms like heavy bleeding, irritable bowels and nausea. These arguments are supported by public health research: endometriosis affects about 10% of women during their reproductive age group. The prevalence of polycystic ovarian syndrome is more challenging to pinpoint as different sources tend to suggest vastly different levels of prevalence in individual populations. For instance, in India, different sources estimate it to range from 10% of the population to 20% (this divergence might be attributed to multiple criteria for diagnosis).

Right of Women to Menstrual Leave and Free Access to Menstrual Health Products Bill, 2022: Bill that is proposed provides three days of paid leave to women and transwomen during their menstruation period and, thus, seeks to extend the benefit for students as well. The Bill cites research indicating that around 40% of girls miss school during their periods, and approximately 65% said that it impacts their daily activities at school.

Menstrual leave policy is still not compulsory in India; it lies at the company’s discretion. However, companies like Zomato, in the year 2020, announced a 10-day paid Period of leave per year. Swiggy and Byjus followed the suit, making a headway.

Conclusion – The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report (2017) reveals that India ranks 108th out of 144 countries; it fares even worse in the category of economic participation of women (ranked at 139). The report reveals that women account for only 11% of the board members of publicly traded companies and 15% of personnel working in research and development, suggesting that the glass ceiling remains strong and women have had limited success in breaking it. It is the need of the hour to acknowledge and accommodate the hardships and emotional and physical shifts and not to treat the menstrual leave policy as a remote topic anymore. They need to be provided additional leaves apart from the entitled buckets of earned, casual, and sick leaves, as menstruation is a natural biological process that does not emanate from any illness or disease. Granting menstrual leave leads to a working space that includes women’s bodies. It is time to unwrap the newspaper covering from the sanitary napkins and make it a normal, naturally occurring biological process every month and allow employees to feel comfortable.

Author: Shivangi Singh, a Student of Christ University

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