The Great Debate: Is Menstrual Leave a Policy Issue or a Human Rights Concern?

On Friday, the Supreme Court declined to consider a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Advocate Shailendra Mani Tripathi, which sought menstrual leave for female students and working women across India.
The Great Debate: Is Menstrual Leave a Policy Issue or a Human Rights Concern?

New Delhi— The Court held that the matter falls within the purview of policy-making and cannot be adjudicated upon by the judiciary. The bench, comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice JB Pardiwala, also observed that granting menstrual leave could discourage employers from hiring women altogether.

The petition contended that differential treatment of women in different states of India concerning menstrual leave is a violation of Article 14. The petitioner emphasized that despite similar physiological and health issues during menstrual cycles, women are being treated differently in different states of India. The petition called for equal treatment of women under the law, as they hold only one citizenship, that of India.

The petition argued –

"It is accordingly a violation of Article 14 inasmuch as this Act differentiates women in the name of federalism and state policies. Despite that women suffer from similar physiological and health issues during their menstrual cycles, they are being treated differently in different states of India. However, women, having one citizenship, i.e., of India, must be treated equally and shall be conferred with equal right."

In response to the PIL, an intervenor argued that providing menstrual leave could have adverse consequences for female employees' career prospects. The Court recognized the merit in this argument and suggested that the petitioner approach the Union Ministry of Women & Child Development to file a representation. CJI DY Chandrachud, while dictating the order said–

"Having regard to the policy dimension in the case, the petitioner may approach the Women and Child Ministry to file a representation."

The order by the Supreme Court to decline hearing the plea for menstrual leave has disappointed women's rights advocates and gender activists. This development has also ignited a debate regarding the status of menstrual leave as either a policy matter or a humanitarian issue.

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Necessary for overall well-being

Speaking on the issue with The Mooknayak, a guest faculty at the Law College, Sukhadia University of Udaipur, Dr. Bhanupriya Kumawat says , " Menstrual pain and related symptoms can significantly impact women's health and productivity: Menstrual pain and symptoms such as cramps, headaches, fatigue, and mood changes can make it difficult for women to work and perform daily tasks. Allowing women to take period leave can help them manage their health and improve their overall well-being".

Model turned advocate Poshy Singhvi believes women feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their menstrual pain and symptoms, and they may face stigma or discrimination at work if they need to take time off for these issues. Having a formal menstrual leave policy can help normalize the conversation around menstruation and reduce the stigma and discrimination that women face.

Sunita Sharma, a sales executive in one of a grocery mart in Udaipur also supports the period leave petition. "Women are disproportionately affected by menstrual pain and symptoms, and not providing menstrual leave can put them at a disadvantage compared to male colleagues. By providing menstrual leave, employers can promote gender equality and create a more inclusive workplace culture" she told The Mooknayak.

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Bihar implemented period leave policy in 1992

Bihar is one of the Indian states that have introduced a menstrual leave policy for its female employees.

Back in 1992, when Lalu Prasad Yadav was leading the government of Bihar, the policy was implemented that granted female employees two days of paid leave every month for reasons related to menstruation. The policy was intended to address the health and well-being of female employees, as well as to decrease absenteeism and boost productivity.

However, the menstrual leave policy in Bihar has also faced criticism from some quarters, who argue that it could reinforce gender stereotypes and discourage employers from hiring women.

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