India as a country has seen quite a few progressive/regressive changes in the recent past, and hopefully the progressive list will increase in the coming days. However, there are certain issues that have always been a taboo in our country and one such issue is that of ‘Menstruation,’ more commonly known as periods. It is very difficult to have an open discussion about this topic as people seem to get extremely uncomfortable and prefer to discuss it behind closed doors.

The debate on the Menstruation Benefit Bill tabled by Ninong Ering, a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha representing Arunachal Pradesh in 2018, triggered widespread discussion on the need to have a menstrual leave policy for working women every month.

The Menstruation Benefits Bill seeks to provide women working in the public and private sectors two days of paid menstrual leave every month, in addition to providing them with better facilities for taking rest at the workplace during one’s menstrual days. The benefits would also be extended to female students of Class VIII and above in government schools. However, the Bill, if passed, would not be path-breaking in any way as a girls’ school in Kerala had granted its students menstrual leave since 1912 and Bihar has had special leave for women for two days since 1992, called the ‘Special Casual Leave.’

In 2016, John Guillebaud, professor of Reproductive Health at University College London, explained that period pain can be as “bad as having a heart attack.” A 2012 study titled Dysmenorrheaby Pallavi Latthe, Rita Champaneria and Khalid Khan states: “Dysmenorrhea (painful periods) is extremely common, and it may be severe enough to interfere with daily activities in up to 20 percent of women’s lives. One could also talk about the typical stereotypes associated with women and question if the contention regarding ‘Menstruation’ would be the same if (only) men had it. A post by Siobhan Fenton in the Independent states that, “Men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated for abdominal pain. For women, the wait is 65 minutes for the same symptoms. It’s thought that this is because women are seen as exaggerating pain and being ‘dramatic’ due to sexist stereotypes.” This definitely plays a major role in the way menstruation has been perceived and when the discomfort associated with it is overlooked.

Countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan have been providing female employees with paid menstrual leave dating back to World War II. However, the humiliation and shame that women had to undergo just to prove that they were actually on their period led many women to avoid availing the leave all together.

Different bodies respond differently to the pain and discomfort experienced during menstruation. Given the difficulties and biological complexities that women go through, I think it is extremely important that such a bill gets passed and that women will be given every right to avail of this leave when required.

While speaking of the Bill, it is important to bear in mind certain medical conditions that are associated with menstruation, such as menorrhagia, endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease and the subsequent considerations of the above mentioned problems while formulating the bill in its entirety. It is obvious that such a heated topic of discussion would invite opinions from all corners and that people do have varying opinions on the same. A section of women are not in favor of this bill because they believe that such a law would further the bias against them at the workplace and they would need to deal with unfair treatments in the form of hiring prejudices, lesser pays, slower promotions and lesser participation in board meetings than already prevalent. Can we blame them? No.

This is exactly what needs to be changed. Women should not be punished for their biological framework. If women need to tolerate their pain in silence just to ‘fit in’ and not be outcasted, then we genuinely have failed as human beings. It is important to remind ourselves that when we talk about equality at the workplace it means equality in all working conditions for men and women and not just those that can be accepted and ignored depending on convenience. This is not a choice that women make every month, so if someone finds it difficult to be at the workplace for conditions not under their control, then they should simply be allowed to avail of the leave.

Among the first few Indian companies to have implemented this practice were Culture Machine followed by Gozoop, and then a few others followed suit such as W&D, a feminine intimate health focused company and IndustryARC, a Hyderabad-based market research firm. A few other progressive companies are in talks to implement the same.

It is essential that for such a law to be in strict practice, the dialogue and conversation around it needs to immediately start and well-formulated working policies and labor laws need to be in place. There are enough biases against women at the workplace and otherwise, so for this bill to be successfully passed it is important that a sensitive, well-chalked out and carefully planned policy be incorporated.

In a country where the word ‘menstruation’ is met with raised eyebrows and disgust, proposing for a ‘Menstrual Leave’ policy will certainly be difficult but will be a much needed change in the right direction.

Author: Moitrayee Das

I am currently pursuing a PhD from TISS, Mumbai.  I have completed my M.Phil from TISS. I have finished my Bachelors and Masters from the University of Mumbai and also completed several Diplomas and Certificate courses from multiple institutions. I am a Youth Ki Awaaz (YKA) Action Network Fellow, 2020. I strongly believe that genuine and sincere efforts to learn and better oneself is the only way forward.

Edited by: Divya Rosaline