The Intersection of Menstrual Leave and Women's Empowerment in the Workplace

The underlying reasoning which guides the ‘period leave’ policy is that menstruation renders a women incapable or physically unfit to work’ at par with their male counterparts.
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Symbolic ImagePhoto : News 24

Spain has taken a pioneering stance in Europe by offering women the privilege of receiving “Menstrual Leave” with pay. Furthermore, the Spanish parliament has authorized new legislation granting adolescent girls and young adults access to a range of sexual and reproductive rights, including the freedom to undergo an abortion and the right to transgender rights.

The new legislation ensures that young women aged 16-17 will no longer require their parents' permission to obtain an abortion, nor will they be compelled to resort to unregulated procedures. Instead, these young women will have the opportunity to receive abortion services at state hospitals. The legislation also guarantees that period products will be distributed free of charge in schools and prisons, while the cost of hormonal contraceptives and the morning-after pill will be covered by state-run health facilities.The legislation is groundbreaking in that it permits individuals aged 16 and above to alter their legally registered gender without medical supervision, granting a degree of autonomy and control over their identities.Women can avail themselves of the new “Menstrual Leave” policy, which permits them to take three days off per month for menstrual-related reasons, with full pay. This initiative acknowledges the challenges faced by women in the workplace and helps promote gender equality in the workforce.

Indian stand on menstrual leave

The state of Bihar in India took a pioneering step in 1992 by implementing a menstruation leave policy that permitted women to take three days off from work or study. This groundbreaking policy was commended for its progressive and forward-thinking approach to women's health and well-being. Despite the positive response, no other state in India dared to follow in Bihar's footsteps, and the policy remained unique to that state for many years.

However, in 2023, the state of Kerala came close to catching up with Bihar's trailblazing approach by introducing a menstrual leave policy for female students enrolled in all state universities.

Legislative measures

Despite the positive developments made in some states, the majority of India still does not have a formal menstrual leave policy. In 2017, Ninong Aring, a Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, attempted to introduce a Menstruation Benefit Bill as a private member's bill. The proposed bill aimed to provide women with four days of menstrual leave in both public and private spaces, along with the provision of resting facilities at workplaces during menstruation. Additionally, the bill proposed an option for women to choose to earn overtime pay at a particular rate.Unfortunately, like many private member bills, the Menstruation Benefit Bill was not passed by parliament. Despite the fact that the bill was not successful, it is a positive indication that some lawmakers in India are committed to recognizing and prioritizing women's health and well-being in the workplace.

In 2020: Food delivery service provider Zomato introduced menstrual leave for up to ten days a year for its women and transgender employees.

2021: Swiggy, another Food delivery service provider Introduced ‘ No Questions Asked’ gives 2-day monthly period leave to female delivery partners

2021: Edtech major BYJUS provided for a total of 12 period leaves in a calendar year.

Other India companies which offered period leave or support include Mathrumbi, Gozoop Online Pvt Ltd, Orient Electric etc .

The underlying reasoning which guides the ‘period leave’ policy is that menstruation renders a women incapable or physically unfit to work’ at par with their male counterparts.

The law on menstrual rights

The concept of the "Right to Life" enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has evolved over the years, and it now includes the right to health and dignity. This expansion of the Right to Life has had a significant impact on the recognition of women's health rights, including menstrual leave.

In the case of Delhi Labour Union Vs Union of India and Anr, a petition was filed in the Delhi High Court seeking four days of paid menstrual leave for all women employees. The court, recognizing the importance of women's health and well-being, directed the Central and State governments to make a decision in line with rules and practicality.

Additionally, Article 39(e) of the Indian Constitution provides for the health and strength of workers, both men and women, as well as the protection of children. This provision emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the well-being of workers, including women, and highlights the need to prioritize the physical and emotional needs of women during menstruation.

Global level: No great strides

The concept of menstrual leave is not new and has been implemented in a few countries around the world. Japan, which was devastated by war in 1947, was one of the first countries to introduce this policy. However, only a handful of other countries have followed suit since then.

Taiwan, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Zambia, Sweden, and Mexico are among the countries that have recognized the importance of menstrual leave and have implemented policies to provide women with the necessary time off during menstruation. By doing so, these countries have taken an important step towards recognizing women's unique health needs and promoting gender equality in the workplace.

While the implementation of menstrual leave policies is still limited globally, it is crucial for more countries to recognize and prioritize women's health needs in the workplace. By doing so, societies can move towards greater gender equality and promote the health and well-being of all individuals.

Fear to increase discrimination

While the concept of menstrual leave is well-intentioned, there are some arguments against it that are worth considering. Some feminist organizations argue that such provisions could actually work against women's empowerment, as some employers may be less likely to hire women if they believe that they will require more time off than male employees. This may result in discriminatory behavior towards women in the workforce, and may actually harm their career prospects in the long run.For example, in 2017, Congress Spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi voiced her opposition to the Menstruation Benefit Bill, arguing that it could lead to further discrimination against women in the workplace.

Similarly, in 2021, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt opposed the 10-day period leave policy offered by Zomato, an Indian food delivery company, for their female employees. Dutt argued that this policy "ghettoizes" women and reinforces biological determinism. While such policies may be well-intentioned, they may have unintended consequences that could ultimately undermine women's empowerment in the workplace.

Women Health Organization vouch for period leave

Upmanyu Patil from Swayam shikshan prayog says that “I think that time is very crucial and the if they can provide maternity leave for months, I don’t think 2-3 days of period leave will have a major impact on the productivity of the company”.

Manisha Pote , Executive Director at Yuva Mitra, a Nasik based organisation says “ Every woman needs rest mentally and physically and therefore they should get maternity leave.”

Shirish from Prayas , a Pune based organization that works on women health says that “ There needs to be sensitization among the men that there can be some women who may have difficult times like cramping, mood changes etc hence those needing menstrual leave should get it and there should also be safeguard to ensure that there is no discrimination.

While the menopausal travails of women have been acknowledged by some countries around the world and some organisations and states in India, the attended discrimination and stigma attached to it seems to have put the government in a spot when it comes to implementing policies which compensate the inherent cycle attached to woman hood.

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