The issue of menstrual leave gained attention in India, when Ninong Ering, a member of Lok Sabha from Arunachal Pradesh, moved a Private Member’s Bill, ‘The Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017’, which laid down a proposal for two days of paid menstrual leave to every women working in the public and private sectors.
Menstrual leave is yet another feminist entitlement which has become a subject of heated debate across the globe. The discourse is all about whether or not women should get paid menstrual leaves. One one hand while the world is celebrating the empowerment and progress made by several women on International Women’s Day — irrespective of their challenges — Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who also happens to be the Chairperson of All India Professionals’ Congress has tweeted a petition, urging all to sign the same and make our workplaces ‘Gender Inclusive’.
Dr Tharoor has posted the petition which is titled ‘MAKE LAWS & POLICY DECLARING MENSTRUAL LEAVE FOR WOMEN’. He quotes,
Do you support Menstrual Leave For Women at Public& Private Workplaces? Join this initiative of @ProfCong by signing this Petition on change.org. Let’s create gender inclusive workplaces in India. Sign the Petition: chng.it/FP2yDHZhvt#WomensDay2020
Do you support Menstrual Leave For Women at Public& Private Workplaces? Join this initiative of @ProfCong by signing this Petition on https://t.co/qC1xqkEyev. Let’s create gender inclusive workplaces in India. Sign the Petition: https://t.co/mw6iWjuBmT #WomensDay2020
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) March 8, 2020
The petition reads as below:
This international women’s day, I urge you to join me in supporting an important cause – ‘Menstrual Leave For Women’ by all Private and Public Employers, in addition to the sick leave in India. All employed women in India should have an option to take ‘work from home’ or ‘leave with pay’ for two days every month, by private and public employers.
Menstruation is an inescapable natural biological process and yet women in India face discrimination around it through cultural practices, lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, and by having to operate in workplaces which are designed without any sensitivity to women’s special needs.
Art. 42 of the Indian Constitution, which is a Directive Principle of the State Policy, states that ‘the State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief’. In order to encourage more women to join the workforce in India, we need to start a debate across India about ‘ensuring safe and accessible workplaces for women’, ‘equal pay for equal work’ and ‘having work conditions which are in alignment with women’s needs’. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, MP for Thiruvananthapuram who is also Chairman of AIPC, raised some of these issue by introducing a Private Member’s Bill titled ‘The Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill’ in 2018 with the stated objective –
‘to emphasise on the agency of a woman in her sexual and reproductive rights and to guarantee menstrual equity for all women by the State.’
Menstrual leave for women is one of the several issues that needs to be addressed in order to halt the rapidly declining female workforce participation rate in India which fell from 36 % in 2005-06 to 24 % in 2015-16. There are several countries which already have provisions for menstrual leave including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.
In India, Bihar is the only state which has been providing two days of special leave every month to its female employees since 1992. This allows women to take any two days off without having to provide any justification.
Ninong Ering, a member of Lok Sabha from Arunachal Pradesh, also moved a Private Member’s Bill ‘The Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017’ which had provision for two days of paid menstrual leave for every woman in the public and private sector. However this issue is yet to be taken up effectively by the Parliament.
There are enough medical reports suggesting that PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) reduces occupational productivity and that menstrual cramps can be as painful as heart attacks. As per the Clinical Evidence Handbook published by the BMJ Medical Publishing Group, UK, 20 percent of women suffer from symptoms like cramps, nausea, fever and weakness during their menstruation cycle. As per the estimates of the Endometriosis Society India, over 25 million women suffer from endometriosis, a chronic condition in which the pain is so bad that it could lead to women passing out from it.
While Article 15 (1) of the Indian Constitution prohibits the state from discrimination on grounds on religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth etc., a provision for menstrual leave will be protected by Art. 15 (3) which carves out an exception to Art. 15 (1) by enabling the State to make special provisions for women and children.
To those who argue that providing for menstrual leave will affect economic productivity, well, first, studies indicate that efficiency levels of women are low during menstruation. Also, there is lack of private place at workplace for women to change menstrual materials, leading to the fear of lack of general hygiene during menstruation days. Therefore in order to ensure an equitable workplace culture, India needs to move beyond the old gender equity discourse and move forward in a constructive way. For example, the basis of a longer and more common maternity leave over paternity leave in India is due to the biological differences in men and women. Those who still need to find an excuse for not hiring women, should not be the main consideration when making equitable policy for women. Women go through pain biologically during menstruation and should be allowed to rest without having to suffer economically.
In light of this, I call upon you to sign this petition and express your support for a movement to usher in ‘menstrual flexibility’ in India, which will enable women to take time off during their period and make up the time on other days.
I urge the Parliamentarians to take up this issue and pass a law for menstrual leave for women at all workplaces, making it applicable to the whole of India.
I also urge all the Employers, Private and Public to introduce this policy at their workplace without waiting for a law on this. This will prove to be an enabler towards gender inclusive workplaces in India.
Wishing you all a very Happy International Women’s day!
Adv. Avani Bansal (Supreme Court) ; Secretary, AIl India Professionals’ Congress, Delhi
PC : Archana Sharma
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While one will always agree how women have to go through painful cramping, backache, headache, moodiness, fatigue, bloating and many more problems in the days of their menstrual cycle, but demanding a mandatory paid leave for the same is certainly not Equality. Different women have different experiences with the menstrual cycle. While some breeze through their periods, many others face severe pain, heavy bleeding, headache, nausea, depression and sleeplessness.
It may sound cool in today’s times to ‘ask for entitlement’ for women in almost everything, however often the champions of equality and empowerment forget that this is nothing but yet another sign of ‘patriarchy’. If you, as a woman, are equal to a man in every respect, you need to work and be at par with him without any fuss.
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Then there are the differences related to the nature of work—for example, between work that involves standing long hours and that which can be done sitting. The way menstrual problems would affect a female labourer would be very different from the case of those working in air conditioned offices.
And why give such privileges only to women in the name of equality? Don’t #MenToo suffer from physical and mental stress? Yes there is no fixed date in the month when he would be going through the pain, however, one never sympathises with the male gender as he is expected to report and perform come what may.
Every organisation already has a provision for sick leaves and if any woman who is genuinely undergoing unbearable pain, can surely avail of the same. However, imagine a situation, if by default the leaves are enjoyed by female employees, while the male employees would end up seeing their lunch and kitty social media posts on that given day. How fair is this Equality?
Can all organisations really afford giving compulsory menstrual leave paid offs in a months? Often start ups are wary of employing women exactly for this reason. If you are going to force such unreasonable and unjust policies over any organisation, you are only doing disservice to the development of women.
Its high time, one must give a serious thought, before encouraging any form of appeasement towards women, as they may end up turning opportunities exactly upside down for them. If you want #EqualPay, then Equality Must Be Equal.
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