Why Menstrual Leaves are Necessary?
“She is a mother, she is a sister, she is a friend and she is a woman”
She was unwell in the morning but she had to go to office because she had a presentation and her boss rejected her leave. She was waiting for her train at the metro station. She suddenly felt a pain like you woke up on an OT table while your doctors are still removing a tumor from your body. She was sweating. The train came and she boarded. No one cared about her. Why would anyone! She found an empty seat and sat with her legs crossed, holding her stomach. Despite all of her suffering she reached her office and gave her presentation. Boss was happy!
This is a story of every woman when she menstruates. I am not saying a menstruating woman is unhealthy but it’s a physiological condition that every woman goes through and which makes them different from ‘the men’. Here, I am presenting my own view and it is my sincere attempt not to hurt the sentiments of anybody.
When in school we were taught about menstruation but educated only about the biology of it but not about the accompanying physical and psychological discomforts that a girl/woman goes through with it . I think it’s the duty of every teacher be it man or woman to sensitize the students about it. But the point I want to make here is that in the class-lessons menstruation seemed a very mundane part of physiology, but it isn’t so in reality.
Before, during and after menstruation a woman goes through lots of changes that are sometimes afflictive like cramps, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), heavy bleeding, constipation, rashes from using pads and many more. And to make their life more miserable we have even added rituals to be followed during that time. Well, rituals in olden times were made to put a woman at ease by not burdening her with stressful chores, but most of them have now become redundantly dogmatic.
On her first day of periods every month my sister slaps on a brave face and goes to work . When I ask her to take the day off she says, ‘How many leaves will I take? Above all my employer will not give me one.” And she prepares herself for the day with some extra pads in her purse. Few hours later she calls me up and says that it’s a bloody murder scene in her underwear. She brazenly waves her sanitary pad at her colleagues and tells them, “I gotta change, again!” Back from the bathroom she grumbles she wished she could take the day off, pops a pill and sleep off the cramps. She once told me how it feels when you have that pain. “It’s like an open wound and how would you feel if someone is jabbing it!” For some time I thought she was exaggerating it but then I realized we men fallaciously pride ourselves on the ‘fact’ that “Mard ko dard nahi hota.” However, recently when I saw a post which very succinctly described the pain that men feel when hurt (read ‘kicked’) in the groin I could empathize with my cousin thinking “each to his/her own”.
Her distress has provoked certain questions in my mind. What if women in India are given one or two days leave during ‘that’ time of the month? Will it be sexist? Will it mean that an employer undervalues a woman because she bleeds? Does it question a woman’s ability to excel because she is different? Then I thought am I the only thinking about it? Obviously the answer was ‘no.’ When I did some research with the help of our ‘google baba’ the first thing it suggested was the Wikipedia page where it was given that Nike in 2007 included menstrual leave in their Code of Conduct and has implemented it around the globe. After reading some more I came to know that in many countries like South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia have provisions where a woman can take leave during periods. It is also believed that the idea of ‘menstruation leave’ was started in Japan in the 20th century and can be trace to late 1920s and 1930 when working conditions for women were unfavorable and lack of facilities made it more difficult. So, bus conductors and textile workers were amongst the first to have requested menstruation leave. Health Care for Women International, Alice J. Dan, of the University of Illinois
In Indonesia women have the right to take two days leave during menstruation every month . Also in Japan there are provisions for woman to take special leave if a woman is having difficult menstruation but it is not compulsory for the employer to provide paid leaves. It is very interesting to know that South Korea is way ahead in this area. They not only give paid leaves but also give additional pay if the female employees do not take their menstruating leaves as per Article 71 of the Labour Standards Law. Even the Philippines government has provisions for mandatory menstruation leave for both private and government employees.
Some studies done here in India show that some women do feel the need to have a day off during menstruation (). Interestingly a small company in Mumbai called Shree Lakshmi Steel Industries has been granting fully-paid ‘period leave’ to its women employees since 2010. According to several media reports, the reason is both medical and religious.
But as per some other studies women in India don’t want such leave . Instead they prefer to pop a paracetamol and head to work. In India where menstruation is already a taboo, where you are not allowed to discuss it with men, taking a day off for it is a big issue for some.
During menstruation most women experience physiological and psychological uneasiness and I think allowing them to take rest during ‘that’ period will boost their mental health and motivate them to work and improve their performance. I think to remove such taboos from our society law will act as a stringent step because when law recognizes it as a healthy process women will get a sense of confidence. Above all taking leave on such days is a choice of the individual and as an employer I would not want my employees to work in such discomfort and releasing them from such stress will be good. A company will perform well when all of its members are healthy and stress free. It will also give the employer an edge over understanding women and their health at large.
Author: Gyanam Saikia
Gyanam hails from Guwahati, Assam. He is passionate about working towards removing the senseless taboos that are rampant in our society, specially affecting women and children. He has published three more articles, called Every Boy Needs To Be Educated About Periods. Here’s Why ; How A Father Made Sure His Daughter Was Ready For Her First Period and How Two Friends And A Pilot Pen Dispelled The Shame Around Periods.
Illustration by Aditi Gupta.3