Is menstrual leave possible in India? An analysis!

An overview of menstruation leave in India and around the world

On December 13, Manoj Kumar Jha, a member of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), raised a question in Parliament regarding the menstrual protection of women. Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, said, “Menstruation and menstruation cycle is not a handicap, rather it is a natural facet of women’s life journey. It does not require paid leave. Menstruation is not a handicap. And only a small proportion of women suffer from a serious condition like dysmenorrhea. These can be corrected with medicines”, has become a topic of discussion nationwide.

Menstrual Leave – Introduction and History:

Generally, most women have a menstrual cycle of 23 to 35 days. It should be noted that the uterus will bleed for three to seven days following the end of this cycle.

In Soviet Russia, in the 1920s and 1930s, the idea of granting leave to menstruating women employed as wage workers was first proposed, along with the statement that women require rest and holidays during these times. Similar to this, in Japan in the late 1920s, the idea of granting women’s menstrual leave was put forth by the trade union and eventually became law in 1947.

This leave policy was first implemented in Indonesia in 1948 and was modified in 2003 to allow workers who are experiencing menstrual pain to take the first two days off from work. Employees in the Philippines are entitled to two days of menstruation leave every month.

Taiwan has a Gender Equality in Employment Act. Employees may take one day off per month with half a day’s pay under Section 14 of the Act. All female employees in South Korea are entitled to one day of monthly physiological leave under Article 73 of the Labour Law.

Vietnam’s labor law has a different approach. As a result, women are granted 30 minutes of relaxation each day during their menstruation. However, in 2020, the law was modified to incorporate a monthly leave of three days. For those who choose not to take a leave of absence, they additionally pay extra.

In Zambia, one of the African countries, there is a menstrual leave called Mother’s Day once a month. And on February 16, Spain became the first European country to offer paid menstrual leave to workers.

Menstrual Holidays in India:

The menstrual leave policy for girls in India was first introduced in 1912 at a school in Tripunithura, Ernakulam district, Kerala state. Accordingly, students who could not appear in the annual examination during menstruation were allowed to appear on another occasion.

Similarly in Bihar, an Act providing two days monthly paid menstrual leave to employees was implemented in 1992 and is in force till date. With this, Bihar became the first state in India to provide menstrual leave to employees.

And on January 19, 2023, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced that menstrual and maternity leave would be granted to students in universities operating under the state higher education department.

This was followed by the “Menstrual Benefits Bill, 2017” in Arunachal Pradesh in 2022, which would provide 2 days of menstrual leave and better rest at work in India but is still pending approval. By this, we know that no other state in India except Bihar and Kerala has implemented the menstrual leave policy.

As far as private companies are concerned, Mumbai-based companies Gozoop and Culture Machine were the first to announce the first day of period leave (FOP) in India in 2017. Zomato has introduced up to 10 days of menstrual leave per year for its women and transgender employees. Companies like Swiggy and Byjus have also introduced similar policies.

Is Menstrual Leave Necessary for All Women?

Menstruation is a natural thing for women, but during periods they suffer from normal disturbances like abdominal pain, back pain, muscle cramps, mood swings, cravings, and severe diseases like dysmenorrhea, which creates a double burden during work. And 20% of menstruating people in India suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome and 25 crore suffer from endometriosis.

Meanwhile, most women go about their daily routine without any symptoms of menstruation. It varies depending on the women’s body type. According to a 2020 survey conducted by private companies across India, about 23 percent of women in the age group of 20 to 29 years, 15.18% of women in the age group of 30 to 44 years, and 17% of teenage girls reported experiencing physical symptoms during menstruation.

According to a study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2011, only 13% of women in India are aware of the early signs of menstruation. So maybe after coming to the office if the women get their period then they will go back home and take a break is also questionable. So they can be given rest breaks in the office as provided in Vietnam.

Similarly, according to the ‘National Family Health Survey- 4 & 5’, in India even today in states like Tripura, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Gujarat, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar 70% or fewer women use sanitary napkins. And Bihar is a state with less than 60% number of not properly registering menstrual products. Only Puducherry and Andaman and Nicobar Islands have this figure of 99%.

Through this, we can know that even today in many parts of India, women are using ashes and torn cloths instead of napkins. However, if women are given menstrual leave in such backward states, they are more likely to be isolated in society and the old environment of being confined to the house is more likely to occur.

So in a country like India where gender inequality and equal opportunities in employment are not provided, menstrual leave is sure to cause debates and reactions.

At the same time, mental and physical rest is essential for women suffering from severe menstrual disorders like dysmenorrhea. Therefore, menstrual leave should be practiced only in the name of women’s choice as it varies according to their constitution. Apart from this, it is very necessary to create an environment in workplaces where toilet facilities for maintaining menstrual hygiene are available to all women.

Obstetricians, legal experts, and psychologists should make decisive decisions regarding the granting of menstrual leave.

Is Menstrual Leave Possible in India?

YouTurn spoke to Anurathna, a Gynecologist at Ponneri Government Hospital about Union Minister Smriti Irani’s comments on menstrual leaves. Responding to that, she said, “Though the tone spoken by Union Minister Smriti Irani did not go well with me, I would also emphasize the internal views expressed by her.

Why I am saying this is that only 2% to 3% of women come to my hospital with severe pain due to menstruation. All other women are normal. They say that women can’t do anything during their period citing this leave as a reason.

Now women are joining the army and flying planes, and in such an environment where women are growing up against the environment of feminism, if I were to announce compulsory retirement, I would be dismissed as “Unfit”. Women indeed suffer losses due to menstrual bleeding, but the backward conditions prevailing in a country like India have forced women to endure such pains and even losses.

In a gender-neutral country like the US, if they offer menstrual leave, I would ask them to take the leave. But in a country like India, I am afraid to accept menstrual leave. And eventually, women are more likely to be cast aside as helpless during menstruation. Through this, women will be relegated to the old environment of not coming out for three days,” she said.

This shows that while India is a leader among other nations, it still lags in terms of menstrual hygiene.


Links:

https://time.com/6105254/menstrual-leave-policies/

https://thewire.in/health/what-nfhs-5-data-tells-us-about-indian-womens-use-of-period-products#:~:text=Percentage%20of%20women%20using%20period,a%20figure%20lower%20than%2060%25.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/periods-force-girls-to-skip-school-reveals-survey/articleshow/100579249.cms

https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/one-in-five-indian-women-suffers-from-pcos/article29513588.ece

https://www.hindutamil.in/news/opinion/columns/954744-menstrual-leave-issues-in-india-1.html

https://www.livemint.com/Politics/v7i1HSjD2VXYrfWlQdL7aM/Denial-of-menstrual-hygiene-to-Indian-women-holds-back-econo.html

 

 

 

 

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Indu Meenakshi

Indu Meenakshi is a former Microbiologist-turned-journalist, works as a Sub-Editor at YouTurn. She additionally holds Master’s in Management and English Literature. As a fact-checker, her job entails actively dispelling false information found online, exposing fake news, and raising public awareness.
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