In a country where menstruation is still considered a taboo in the 21st Century, Zomato, one of India’s largest Indian restaurant aggregator and food delivery start-up made a rather progressive move by introducing a policy wherein its female and transgender employees can avail up to 10 days of period leaves in a year. This move sparked quite a debate on social media with many for and against this policy.
Those against this trend believe that this does not agree with the idea of feminism and is discriminatory against male employees now that female employees have ten extra days of leave in a year. They believe that the idea of period leave has turned a natural biological experience into something huge thereby, bestowing a special status upon women and that men need to be compensated against this gynocentric policy.
Every Uterus is Different
The question is, do all women go through the same biological experience? Why is menstruation still a taboo that is refrained from being addressed in the open? Why are periods always a top-secret wherein calling it a sick leave rather than a period leave at workplaces seems more invulnerable?
Not all women are the same and neither are their uteruses. Most women pop pain killers to continue working while some find it very difficult to work during periods. Moreover, period pain is extremely common yet severe and can actually cause hindrance in the daily functioning of many women. Women should have the full freedom and choice to listen to their bodies rather than keeping mum about it all their lives.
If there is anything that this trend addresses, it is Gender Equality and Women Empowerment. Creating a healthy workplace environment for women while being mindful of their biological experience will only make women feel more celebrated.
Existing Period Leave Policy in India
Not many would know but the Bihar Government was the first to initiate the period leave policy in India back in 1992. Female employees in Bihar are eligible for a two-day leave per month. The human resource guidelines of the Bihar Government state :
“All women are eligible to avail two days of special leave every month for biological reason. This is in addition to all the other eligible leaves.”
The Debate regarding period leave policy began back in 2017 when a bill called the Menstruation Benefit Bill was introduced by Ninong Ering, a member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh which proposed two days of paid period leave every month for working women. Unfortunately, the bill could not make it to any prime time debates and was never passed.
In 2018, Indian Politician Shashi Tharoor also introduced a private member’s bill titled ‘The Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill’. He also recently kicked off a debate on Twitter asking for public support on a petition towards menstrual leave for women both in public and private workplaces.
Judiciary’s Take on Menstrual Taboo
The Sabarimala Case Verdict
In September 2018, the Supreme Court rightly put an end to gender discrimination by lifting the ban on women of menstrual age from entering the Sabrimala Temple calling it a violation of women’s rights to practice religion.
Internationally, the menstrual leave provision was first practiced in Japan which introduced this provision to its employees in 1947. Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and some provinces in China have also started the period leave policy. Similarly, companies like Nike, CoExist, Magzter, Gozoop, Cultural Machine also have a period-policy for its female employees.
Back in the day when the Maternity Leave Policy was introduced, there were many who protested against it, however, it paved a way for women who aspired to be working mothers. Similarly, today one might not be able to wrap their head around Period Leave but it will soon be normalized. In the coming future, a bill supporting menstrual leave policy needs to be passed so women in both, private and public sector can seek the benefit of a healthy working environment. Zomato has surely drawn praises for paving the way to a debate regarding the importance of period leave and its sheer positive impact at workplaces.
Speaking of gender-bias, We Are Equal, Not Identical.
‘The journey for the day when Period Leave is normalized begins now, with the fire lit by a handful of women today’Angellica Aribam, founder of Femme First Foundation