Leave to Bleed

Maria Binny Palamattom

What is menstruation? An inevitable natural biological process, which is often labeled as a taboo by many on a few unreasonable and unjustifiable grounds of religious ritualistic beliefs; or is a situation often ignored or tagged as a part of the designated sufferings of a woman.

Unfortunately, the physical and mental effect menstruation has is notably different from one woman to another i.e. if for some the impact of conditions like dysmenorrheal implications is reduced, for others the condition includes extreme cramping, back pain, bloating, fatigue and changes in mood, and the list goes on. However, undeniably for both the categories, one among the most urgent requisite is a hygienic atmosphere along with access to a private space to make regular clean up possible.

Yes, there might be a question popping up, ‘Okay, all these things are available to most of the women? Then, why even have a discussion?’

The intensity of premenstrual symptoms, as stated before, varies from one individual to another. Statistically, approximately 14-25% of women face abnormal uterine bleeding; and there are noticeable cases of severe/chronic symptoms as well. The impact and the hardships undergone by women during their periods are most felt in the workplaces.

Yes, you read it right. Workplaces.

The policy enactments, including the introduction of maternity leave benefits, are noteworthy attempts, that are considerate to the differences in biological conditions of individuals. Commendably, there are enumerable nations, ever since the 1920s, that have realised menstrual/period leave as a necessity.

A historical overview of the policy brings us to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, where sexual equality was prioritised, followed by the recruiting of women workers equally into the labour force; which led to the initiation of Protective Labour Legislations with due accommodation of the conditions of women involved in lifting and carrying work.

Apart from the example of Russia in the past, Japan is one among those nations which gives a noteworthy model for the rest of the world, where the policy was introduced back in the year 1947, taking into consideration the manual labour and the population of women employees by inclusion of ‘Measures for women who work during menstrual periods‘ in their Labour Standards Law. Apart from Japan, the policy is in practice in countries like Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, a few Chinese forces and Zambia.      

India, however, hasn’t come forth with a similar policy via an insertion into its labour code or labour law. Notably, there were legislative attempts from different parts of the country that unfortunately remained as drafts/bills due to numerous objections against policy enactments of similar nature, which could have assured benefits for women at the workplace via monthly short term leaves from 1-2 days (depends). Major contentions that arose against the policies included possibilities of exploitation, increased gender gaps, sexism and impracticability. However, the honest question that one could raise against all these arguments can be the credibility of the prevalent maternity leave benefits. If maternity leave, or even parental leave unanimously does not pose similar questions, if the factors associated with the differences in biology are duly acknowledged for maternity leave, why can it not be done for period leave?      

Commendably, the concept has its roots dating back to 1912 from the State of Kerala. This might seem interesting when we get to know the attempt, though remote, was undertaken in The Government Girl’s School, Tripunithura by the Head Master of the institution who observed the increased absenteeism of students and teachers during exams, as recorded by Historian P Bhaskaranunni. This is a prominent example of the welcoming note of such policies. Also, the legislative attempts for the policy includes the Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017, a private member’s bill by Lok Sabha Parliamentarian Ninong Ering from Arunachal Pradesh, Women’s Sexual Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill which was presented by Parliamentarian Dr. Shashi Tharoor and similar demand raised by Legislative Assembly Member K S Sabarinathan from Kerala which was further declared with the probabilities of enactment by the Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan.      

Apart from the above mentioned attempts, the demand got echoed further when the online platform for food delivery – Zomato came forward with the provision of such paid leaves for their female employees, which was followed by a series of deliberations on this regard. Remotely, a few private organisations and corporates recognise similar leaves in their labour codes such as the media group Mathrubhoomi since 2017, companies such as Culture Machine and Gazoop. These progressive steps call for each and every organisation and the nation as a whole to introspect and necessitates a policy of a similar nature could satisfy.

Preferably, if the leaves are made voluntary in a paid format for minimum of one day, female employees depending upon their convenience could choose to avail the same, as and when their health and mental conditions demand. It is high time that a developing country like India, where the ratio of female employees are almost equal to that of male employees in notable sectors of economy, to take up measures of this kind to reduce absenteeism and improve efficiency of work forces in every way possible. The acknowledgment and recognition of sexual differences do not harm the efficiency of the work force but only enhances the same. Access to sanitation and hygienic work environment is not a variable requirement, rather it is a part of recognised human rights.   

The time has come to acknowledge menstruation as an inevitable biological process impacting the health of women and hence is not a taboo as believed by many.

Author Bio

Maria Binny Palamattom is a second year student of Law from School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru. She is a civil service aspirant who is interested in Research, Mooting and ADR. She has authored articles on Law and Public Policy and a few other socio-legal issues as well. She spends her leisure time by reading and listening to music. Her extra-curricular interests include music and acting. She is also immensely interested in Women and Law as well.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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