This is the winning entry for our 6th writing contest: Menstrual Leaves-Should or Shouldn’t be

Menstruation or a period is the monthly shedding of the uterine lining – ‘endometrium’ in sexually reproductive females. It is the most natural and normal thing that happens to almost half of the species called Homo sapiens and yet it is considered to be an embarrassing issue rather than a health one. More often than not, it is the harbinger of searing pain, nausea, unbearable cramps,distressing discomfort, heightened fatigue, and a difficult mental or physiological state that plays havoc with women’s daily lives for those few days.

In the light of the pain and disturbance/s caused by it, Menstrual Leaves are turning heads. They are a category of occupational leaves; paid or unpaid, applicable to female employees if they want to avail them because of the inability to work due to the pain caused by the natural bodily function of menstruation.Hypothyroidism, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, blood disorders, heavy bleeding because of menorrhagia, polyps, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory diseases, uterine cancer, endometriosis, uterine fibroids etc.,can be one of the many reasons why a woman may be experiencing painful periods or ‘dysmenorrhea’. “An estimated 50% to 60% of women suffer from dysmenorrhea, which leads to the loss of 140 million working hours in the US alone, and is considered to be the leading cause of missed work days for young women. Workplaces and schedules should be designed around their menstrual cycles so that women don’t dread the onset of periods and rather rejoice at the fact that their body is functioning fine.”

Best way to talk to your daughters about periods

Although this may sound like a new practice, it has existed since decades in countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and is recently picking up in trend in Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc. Nepal’s ‘Sasto Deal’, ‘Coexist,’ a firm in the UK, Nike, ‘Shree Lakshmi Steel Industries’ in Mumbai, Industry ARC in Hyderabad, already offer these leaves. This is definitely a wake up call for other companies and countries to take heed.

I feel that Menstrual Leaves should definitely be incorporated into our working culture. Women form roughly 50% of the global workforce and every month around 90% of women endure various degrees of period pain owing to medical reasons like dysmenorrhea, endometritis, fibroids etc. Managers have admitted that in workplaces where menstrual leave is allowed, women feel guilty and ashamed of availing it. They either apply for a common sick leave, or often sit at their desks popping painkillers that might have harmful affects on their health, suffering excruciating amounts of pain in silence with a brave face on, not wanting to acknowledge it. But then what about the women who do not have desk jobs but have to move around for field work or a sales job or those that involve manual labor?

Many progressive leaders opine that there’s no point in wasting time in the office just for the sake of it; rather employees should have the flexibility of delivering results by working qualitatively and not by just punching more hours at the office. If a menstrual leave helps a woman nourish and recharge herself so that she can come back and do her job to the tee, then why not! Besides it’s not fair in a way that women have no leaves left when they suffer from gender neutral ailments like the flu or fever or any other thing for that matter. Also, medical studies support the fact that once the menstruating period is over, women become thrice as productive.

Now every good initiative has its fair share if criticism. A segment of feminists, meninists, and critiques alike, feel that it will undermine women’s competence at the workplace, might lead to discrimination and sexism, might strengthen glass ceilings and might give male employees an excuse for office chit-chat. Then there is the issue of misuse of the leave, but truth be told, don’t people misuse Sick Leaves too? It becomes a moral/ethical issue then, but not a health issue for organizations.  Just offering work from home is not a solution because sometimes the pain is so debilitating that it warrants lying on a bed doing absolutely nothing but resting.

So what can be the solution/s to such problems?

First and foremost, it starts with breaking the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation by organizing talks to sensitize the workforce so that women open up about it and men treat the subject with the right lens. Next, strict company policies to prevent gossip and harassment of any kind should be put in place. Paid or unpaid, the number of days per month or year offered as leave,the leave intimation and approval process, upholding the dignity and respect of a woman availing this policy, mechanism for non-disclosure to unaffected parties, fair treatment of women by their supervisors during appraisals and otherwise, are equally important measures. Women can also be offered compensatory leaves so that they can work on holidays or during weekends.Another way to level the playing field for both sexes is to provide ample flextime so that employees, both men and women, don’t have to explain why they are using it. Organizations should trust a person’s personal time – off and believe that the person, irrespective of their gender, will get the work done if they’re accountable for it.Every human being should have the right to a leave as their basic human right, as each person and their body behaves differently.

In the name of gender equality, we needn’t equate physiologies; but we should equate performance and professionalism. And menstrual leaves will just make workplaces better by accommodating the biological needs of the human body. Society shouldn’t see this as reverse discrimination, but rather as a medical necessity. What with stress levels increasing, lifestyles becoming monotonous and unhealthy due to a lack of proper diet and exercise, the working population’s demographics, needs and priorities changing; employee – friendly, pro work-life balance policies like this are a must-have. Leaves like this will ensure that monthly menstruation doesn’t leave anything but health and happiness in its wake.

Soumya-PandaAuthor: Soumya Panda

Soumya Panda is final year MBA graduate specializing in Human Resource Management. She is a Blogger and also a public speaking enthusiast.

Editor: Divya Rosaline