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Women are still shamed for wanting rest for pain during periods; so Zomato declaring menstrual leave for women and trans employees, and others who menstruate is a step forward.
Anahita was abruptly jolted out of her sleep. Sweat beads had formed on her temple. Casting a frustrated glance towards the wall clock, she noticed that it was 2:00AM. The weather had been unforgivable in the past couple of days. Throughout the day, the sun burnt mercilessly and the nights were equally relentless. To add to everyone’s woes, it hadn’t rained in days.
Today was no different. It was a blazing hot summer night. Sleep eluded her – partly because of the intolerable heat, but mostly because it was her first day of periods.
Throughout the night, she struggled to sleep as menstrual cramps unleashed monstrosities on her body. Meanwhile, her husband, Reyansh snored contentedly next to her. Looking at his sleeping form on the other side of their bed, she felt jealous – jealous of his ability to sleep, completely oblivious to the monthly pain that a woman has to undergo.
Somehow, after pleading to the Lord innumerable times, she finally managed to fall asleep only to be woken up 2 hours later, drenched in sweat and with blood stains all over her clothes.
Feeling distraught and entirely powerless, she burst out in uncontrollable sobs. Hearing her sobs, Reyansh moved slightly. From the corner of her eye, she saw him anxiously look for the source of the sound. As her sobbing continued, he was finally fully awake. Eyes wide in fear, he cautiously asked, “Ana, what is wrong?” She quietly mumbled, “Rey, I might die today. I feel like soldiers are fighting some kind of battle inside my stomach. It is unbearable.”
Deeply disturbed to see her bent double in pain, Reyansh enquired, “Tell me how to help. I am here.” She just shook her head in response.
After she cleaned up, Reyansh held her close to him and placed a hot water bag on her abdomen. He tried to comfort her as any supportive husband would, but despite his best attempts he failed to alleviate her pain.
In the morning, Anahita decided to apply for leave. After the restless night, where she barely got 3-4 hours of sleep, she wanted to give her body the rest it so clearly needed. She called her manager hoping to explain her plight and her inability to be at office.
After 2 rings, the deep baritone of her manager greeted her, “Hello, Anahita. Good morning! You are up early.”
“Yes, Sir. I could not sleep the entire night. Severe cramps,” lamented Anahita. She continued, “I just wanted to inform you that I shall not be able to come to office today. I am in excruciating pain. I want to apply for leave.”
A deafening silence followed Anahita’s words before her manager sneered, “Anahita, you women really need to get a grip on yourselves. I am tired of hearing these same stupid monthly cycle excuses. Please be at office at your regular time. I cannot approve your request for leave.”
Appalled at his condescending tone, Anahita found herself at a loss for words. But, before she could even counter him, a click on the other side of the line announced that the call had already been disconnected.
While every woman’s body is different and there are a blessed few who do not experience the dreaded period cramps, not everyone is as lucky. Anahita is one among scores of women who experience brutal pain during periods. And when I say brutal I mean the most savage kind there is. Sometimes, these cramps disrupt their regular life and render them incapable of performing even the daily chores. In more severe cases, even painkillers prove to be futile.
In such a situation, when a chauvinistic boss reduces menstrual cramps to a mere ‘regular monthly excuse’, he does not just invalidate a woman’s experience but also enables and fosters a culture where women have little to no scope to freely discuss their challenges. It is one thing to be unfamiliar with the severity of menstrual cramps, but absolutely another to turn a blind eye and disregard the entire experience altogether.
But, although deeply disturbing, this is a bias that has pervaded across generations inspite of society making massive progress otherwise.
At a time when one strata of our society continues to sweep topics like menstruation under the rug, Zomato, in a radical move, recently announced paid menstrual leaves for its women workforce. It is a welcome initiative given how the topic is still shrouded in secrecy.
Even today, sections of the population hesitate to openly discuss menstruation, and therein lies the problem. Until there is an open dialogue about menstruation and the challenges it entails, women will continue to suffer.
But, although a predominantly well received move, Zomato’s policy has drawn flak from certain sections of the society. Barkha Dutt, a renowned journalist, vehemently criticized it on the grounds of it contributing to stereotyping of women at the workplace.
For the longest time, women’s menstrual experiences have been minimized to the extent of them being purported as an ‘exaggeration’. But, as a woman who has suffered severe abdominal cramps and seen friends passing out due to extreme pain during periods, I wholeheartedly laud Zomato’s move. Despite the criticism it has received, I strongly believe that other companies should also follow suit. Period leaves should not just be incorporated as part of the policy structure, but also normalized and accepted as a way of life.
Isn’t it remarkable how Zomato while spectacularly addressing such a delicate topic became a beacon of hope for women across the nation?
Image source: Polina Zimmerman on Pexels
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HR by profession, but a writer by choice, I find creative respite through writing.
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