This article has been authored by Maria Binny Palamattom, a second year student of Law at School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru.
The need to initiate the menstrual leave policy for women in their workplaces is an issue of concern since time immemorial. The physical ailments and cramps during menstrual cycle vary from person to person. Menstrual Leave policy provides an option for women to take leave, in a paid or unpaid manner, where they are not in a position to attend their job due to the physical condition. In India, where menstruation continues to remain as an untouched taboo in several parts of the country, the need to focus on the issue becomes a mandate in consideration to the Human rights of working women.
The importance of the policy enactment is not only a necessity for the White Collar jobs but all the sectors of employment in general. Since, being an untouched policy in India, this article seeks to analyze the global stand on the policy along with a few changes incorporated within India which has resulted in a series of deliberations on the topic.
Why menstrual leave?
Different countries across the Globe have include Menstrual Leave Policy in their labour codes. This is with reference to the numerous hurdles with respect to the physical disorders faced by women during the days of menstruation. Notably, a common menstruation complaint is Dysmenorrhea or Menstrual Cramps resulting in Painful Periods. The pain, at times debilitating can be felt in Pelvic joint, Abdomen and as back pain. Studies even infer that the extreme cases of Dysmenorrhea become a major gynecological issue among women and girls leading to absenteeism with a diminished quality of life.
Moreover, the menstrual irregularities such as Menorrhagia lead to abnormal and prolonged, bleeding along with hormonal imbalances and other concerns. Adding on to this difficulty, the condition of Premenstrual Syndrome, that occurs a week before or on a first few days of the menstrual periods create both physical and emotional discomfort for women. These symptoms include Changes in Appetite, Back Ache, Acne, Bloating, Headaches, depression, feeling of sadness, anxiety/tensions, sweating, tender breasts, irritability, water tensions, constipation/diarrhea, trouble concentrating, insomnia and tiredness.
UNFPA on menstrual periods
The United Nations Populations Fund (hereinafter ‘UNFPA’) of the UN Sexual and reproductive health agency has undertaken several measures in response to the number of issues faced by women especially with respect to menstrual health policies. Considering the menstrual health and safety policy to be a long-overlooked topic of research UNFPA helps to gather data and evidence of about menstrual health and its connections globally.
It has also insisted on the need for proper management of menstrual periods by various means such as access to clean material to absorb or collect blood, change the materials in safety and privacy at regular intervals, disposal and cleansing, access to the requites. These inferences provide the cue to introspect on the situations undergone by female employees at the work places.
Menstruation and Human Rights
Human Rights are profoundly in the virtue of Human Dignity. Menstruation, being integrally related to Human Dignity, such that during the time of heavy bleeding their inability to access safe bathing facilities, safe and effective means of managing menstrual hygiene shall push the women into inability to manage their menstruation with dignity. This includes barriers to sanitation and health, i.e. impoverished work environment, inability to access clean and safe facilities add on to their burden and depreciate their life style.
Right to Health, Right to Education, Right to Work, Right to Non-Discrimination and Gender Equality, Right to Water and Sanitation are a few of the Human Rights associated to the menstrual period of women. Hence, in order to prevent the excessive absenteeism and reduced quality of work, the need for menstrual leave is validated.
A remarkable legislative step was proposed at the Lok Sabha of Arunachal Pradesh by MP Ninong Ering through a Private Members Bill- The menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017. The bill proposed the provision of menstrual leave of 2 days/month for women working in both public and private sectors along with access to better rest facilities for women during menstruation. The major reference was made to the reduction of productivity of women when they undergo unhealthy circumstances during menstruation and hence calls for the proposal. The Bill is under consideration with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
In 2018, MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor introduced the parliamentary Bill, Women’s Sexual Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill with the need to address Women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The bill introduced in Lok Sabha provided for various legislative undertakings on Criminalizing of Marital Rape, Free Access of Sanitary Napkins to Women and Amending Medical Termination of Pregnancy. Though the bill was met with a couple of criticisms with respect to the technical plausibility, it became a noteworthy move towards the untouched stigmatized menstrual rights of women in India.
Global scenario and Policies Adopted
The origin of the Menstrual Leave Policy is identified to be from the USSR in 1920s.The Bolshevik Movements toward ensuring Sexual Equality were also associated with the need to address the specific requirements of women from their biological differences in conditions of paid employment. Thereby, the need to accommodate and recognize, the biological constitution and function by Law arose, sought to specific consideration.
Moreover, special mention was provided on the women who are involved in lifting and carrying works at the work place during their menstrual periods. Hence the concept of a paid short term menstrual leave every month was adopted. Thence, Soviet Union provides a unique considerate example to the rest of the world on Protective Labour Legislation. The campaign undertaken for the menstrual leave for a period of 12 days in a year for the Female employees of Toyota in Australia by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) had also gained International Attention.
Later, in 1940s similar policies were adopted in countries like Japan and Indonesia. Countries like Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, a few Chinese Forces and Zambia have already included the policy into their respective labour codes at industrial and National Levels which provides is a welcoming note to the policy makers of other countries as well. On the other hand, nations like The Philippines, Italy, France, Brazil and Hong Kong are now undergoing debates and deliberations for the enactment for both public and private workspaces.
Corporations and Organizations towards the policy
Apart from the major nations adopting the policy, various corporate giants and organizations have already adopted the policy globally. This includes Victorian Women’s Trust in Australia, IT and Media Companies in India such as Culture Machine, Gozoop, Magster, Digital Marketing Company Shark and Shrimp in Egypt, NGO Coexist in Britain and so on are the notable positive steps. Nike in 2007 included the policy in their Code of Conduct furthered prioritized with a memorandum of understanding.
Most of the above-mentioned adoptions are with respect to studies that prove the hardships and unhealthy working conditions women are exposed to during their menstrual periods. Surveys among the working women have proved that the sick leaves taken by women due to their menstrual sickness are in large numbers. The ignorance of such sickness can create great implications in future and can also result in lesser productivity in the workspaces. The stigma of revealing the reason for the absenteeism is also prevalent among several working women.
The Kerala Model
India has not yet adopted a Menstrual Leave Policy for women. However, similar to the aforementioned IT and Media Companies, a few private organizations have come forward with such revolutionary steps. This draws attention towards the Government Girls School, Tripunithara for the first time in the history of the country in 1912 allowed students to take menstrual leave during their Annual Exams.
This was brought into national attention in the book written by Historian P Bhaskaranunni in the book Kerala in the 19th Century. The step towards this change was undertaken by the School Headmaster V P VishwanathaIyer in the light of the frequent absence of students during their menstruation. The policy has also come into force in a popular Malayalam Television Channel Mathrubhoomi which has attained nationwide appreciation.
Historic Step by Zomato in India
Zomato, an Indian restaurant aggregator and food delivery startup has initiated the Menstrual Leave Policy for its female employees providing almost 10 leaves more than its male employees in the notion one period leave for each menstrual cycle on 8th of August 2020. This can be communicated by the employees via mail or internal groups, hence abolishing the existing stigmas against menstruation as a whole. This step by Zomato has triggered full-fledged debates for the policy enactment in all the sectors of employment for the welfare of women.
The Menstrual Leave Policy had met with several criticisms such as an act of Sexism, Inequality to Men due to the increased number of leaves, Medical Condition, Possibility of Misuse etc. However, in consideration with the better work experience and increased productivity of female employees, who have access to menstrual leaves, the aforementioned issues are technically nullified.
The need to call for better health conditions, especially reproductive health and the need for increased performance and reduced absenteeism among female employees, the adoption of this policy shall seek to be extremely helpful. Hence, by analyzing the mechanisms chosen by various nations and institutions, India has to come forward towards the betterment of Female Employees and their working conditions by framing a Menstrual Leave Legislation.