This is the winning entry for our 6th writing contest: Menstrual Leaves-Should or Shouldn’t be
Krishna is a mother of two and resides in a small village in Bihar. Her husband is suffering from tuberculosis and is too sick to go for work. Krishna not only does all the household chores, including taking care of her sick husband, children and old in-laws, but she is also the sole earning member in her family. She works as a daily wage laborer in a nearby field. One day while returning from a field visit, I met her on the way. She looked pale and unwell. On asking further questions, she told me that it was the second day of her monthly period and that she had severe pain in her stomach. She added that every third or fourth month, she has a tough time during her periods. I offered to drop her at her house and advised her to drink more water and use thicker cloth as pads. Do you think this was the most appropriate advice that one should give to a woman who is suffering from menstrual pain? If I were to complain about having severe pains during periods, my mother would have taken care of me and not let me go for work. But in Krishna’s case, she did not have the luxury to take a day off from work and rest at home. This is a common story for many women like Krishna who have to deal with menstrual pains without complaining.
When we debate about menstrual leaves, do we consider such women who do not have an option to rest when they are struggling with period pains? I guess not. We only talk about the ones working in the formal sector or the ones who fall under labor laws. Mental labor and physical labor should be given equal recognition. If a woman who works in an air conditioned office finds it difficult to go for work during her menstrual days then what about that woman who has to do physical labor during her periods? Any debate or discussion on menstrual leaves clearly ignores those women falling under the latter category. Bigger questions like these should be addressed first before speaking about woman’s rights or what is good for a woman. Whether menstrual leaves should or shouldn’t be there comes only if we can be sure that it is being advocated for everyone.
Menstrual taboo is a serious issue across the world. Many women feel embarrassed to talk about menstruation in public or even with their male family members.In such cases, menstrual leaves bring unnecessary attention to a woman during that time of the month in which they would generally prefer to be left alone. In general, no woman would like to highlight the fact that they are on their periods and let the world know about their menstrual cycles. Each one has their own way of dealing with this monthly affair. Moreover it can possibly increase the divide between male and female employees in the form of larger wage gaps or discrimination in the workplace. It can also have a negative impact on a woman’s self confidence and make them dependent on others when they are menstruating. Another issue with menstrual leaves is that employers would find it difficult to satisfy all the employees if we consider the equity versus equality argument. Menstrual leaves might be equitable since it means understanding people and giving them what they need but it wouldn’t promote equality which would mean that everyone gets the same thing.Male employees can have an issue with the leave policy and argue that not all women have a tough time during menstruation.
Studies show that for 20% of women, pain associated with menstruation can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities.The probable cure for such pains also differs from person to person. For some, resting helps and some feel the constant urge to be involved in activities. We shouldn’t forget that there are a large percentage of women who are lucky enough and do not face any menstrual cramps or any other discomfort. When we consider this, menstrual leaves might seem a bit unfair for all.This issue can be looked at from the other way round. We can think of ways to make things comfortable for those who are facing menstrual pains while at work. I believe what every woman needs when she is on her periods, is empathy, and not sympathy. Women already have a tough time controlling their emotions and might face premenstrual syndrome; the last thing that one would want in such a situation is others feeling sorry for them.If the co-workers are caring enough or if there are sick rooms in a workplace where anyone can rest if they are not feeling well, then this issue can be tackled without tagging it as menstrual pain and letting the entire office know that the woman is menstruating. So let’s think of creative ways of helping every woman rather than sticking to one idea and unnecessarily arguing on it.
Author: Dyuti Sen
Dyuti is an Economics graduate and is currently pursuing a social leadership program and working in rural Bihar.
Editor: Divya Rosaline