Period Leaves: The Endless Debate
Author- Anika Singh
Editor- Navya Om Agnihotri
In August 2020, Zomato announced a new paid menstrual leave policy for its women employees. While this is not the first time that a company is announcing such a policy, it has triggered a sharp debate among women themselves on whether this is a progressive move, mere tokenism, or a regressive move.
Also, even though the decision is to be applauded as a significant step towards eliminating the stigma associated with menstruation in the workplace and in Indian culture at large, the issue remains whether firms like Zomato should have the option to offer women period leave at all.
In the midst of all the talk about menstruation, the issue of providing period leave is very important to working women. A few years ago, a Mumbai-based digital media firm declared that all female employees would be permitted to take leave on the first day of their period every month.
It was, certainly, a progressive step that recognized the various needs of women. Period discomfort is a serious problem that requires greater consideration and compassionate treatment.
The majority of women connect the terms "painful" and "messy" with menstruation. However, not all women have the same level of discomfort throughout their periods. Menstrual cramps can seem like a searing agony for some women, making day-to-day functioning seem impossible.
Worry on Misuse
In any discussion of paid leaves, the fear of abuse is unavoidable. The concern of misusing period leaves stems from the patriarchal system we live in.
Countries & Period Policy
While the debate over period leave is still ongoing, here is a list of all the nations where women are given paid menstrual leave.
Two days, every month.
Women must be compensated for unused menstrual leave.
Three days per month that are not considered as sick leaves.
Women have one day off per month.
Japan has had menstrual leave regulations in place since 1947, when a legislation was established enabling any woman who had difficult periods or whose employment may aggravate period discomfort to take time off.
Women will be permitted to take one or two days off provided they present a certificate from a licensed medical institute or hospital.
In the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, period leave policies are practically non-existent.
Even in countries where period leave is available, feminists are divided on whether it is a step back or a sign of progress for women's rights. Some think that it is as important for working women as maternity leave, while others contend that it portrays women as less capable than men and may lead to additional discrimination.
There is no unified leave policy.
It should be noted that India's labour regulations are complicated. The Central or State governments regulate both public and private sector businesses. There is no consistent leave policy throughout this legislation, with each state passing a "Shops and Establishments" Act to address leave concerns.
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With the implementation of the new period leave policy, women who work at Zomato will now be eligible to 10 days of period leave per year, however they can only take one day each menstrual cycle.
Women working in Zomato's Bangalore offices would be eligible to 10 days more of period leave and five more sick leave days than their female counterparts in Gurgaon.
In Maharashtra, the Shops and Establishments Act does not provide for sick leave, although there is a provision for eight days of casual leave in addition to earned leave. The period leave policy should be a pleasant relief for Zomato's female employees in Mumbai.
That being mentioned, women who do not work at Zomato or in an institution that provides menstrual leave are forced to use their sick leave on days when they are suffering from period pain/cramps/fatigue.
As a result, once there is political agreement that women should have the right to menstruation leave, there is an urgent need for Parliament to adopt laws to ensure that women throughout states and institutions, whether public or private, are entitled to the same number of period leave days.
The Right to Period Leave
Ninong Ering, a Congress Lok Sabha MP, proposed “The Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017” in 2017. Women employed by both public and private enterprises registered with the Central and/or state governments would have been entitled to two days of menstrual leave per month, for a total of 24 days per year under the Bill. The Bill went well beyond Zomato's policy of 10 days of paid time off each year.
While the precise amount of menstrual leave days that should be provided is debatable, Zomato's reasoning is that women have 14 menstrual cycles per year on average, and when the chance of a period happening on a weekend is considered, 10 days' leave is optimum.
Many women voiced worry over the fact that a right to period leave would offer employers another justification to discriminate against female workers and might be counterproductive at a time when female participation in the workplace has dropped dramatically over the years and is now at 23.3 percent. The worldwide experience shows that connecting female labor-force participation to period leave is at best fragile.
A certain segment of the male community will always be opposed to any rule that benefits women, whether it be dowry, property rights, or menstrual equality. Menstrual leave mandates may result in sexist remarks from males and discussion about whether women are "faking it."
Isn't it true that men will be men? Let them be - there's no need to deny women the right to menstruation leaves because of that. The time has come to seriously explore enacting laws allowing companies to provide women with monthly period leaves.
More businesses should follow this policy since it helps to eliminate the stigma. We have also trained male supervisors about this leave and implemented an online system of self-approved leave so that women may use it with ease. It is reasonable to maintain it in addition to sick leave because menstruation is not a disease.