Far From Denying Opportunities, Paid Period Leaves Is About Equity

We cannot and should not make laws based on the experiences of a small section of society. Period pain is a reality for many menstruators.

Recently, our Women and Child Development Minister said, “As a menstruating woman, I can very particularly say, menstruation and menstrual cycle is not a handicap, neither it’s a natural part of a woman’s life journey. Given that women today are opting for more and more economic opportunities, I will just put my personal view on this; I’m not the officiating ministry. We should not propose issues where women are in some way denied an equal opportunity just because somebody who does not menstruate has a particular viewpoint towards menstruation.”

This was her reply to a question asked by Prof Manoj Kumar Jha (member of Rajya Sabha), “What measures have been placed to make compulsory provisions for employers to grant certain number of paid menstrual leaves to female employees?” Prof Jha also stated that in 1992-93, Bihar was the first state to provide menstrual leaves followed by Kerala.

Divided opinions show few understand the issue

Since the incident happened, people have divided their opinions over this. A few have also expressed their outrage over Mrs. Irani’s views saying, “How can she herself being a women ignore the struggles faced by other menstruating women?” A few countered that saying, “Why would a company hire female employees if they start asking for paid menstrual leaves?” A few women came out and expressed their struggles during their periods. A few trolls turned up and said, “If women start getting paid menstrual leaves, we men also want paid leaves.”

While every woman experiences a certain amount of discomfort during their menstrual cycle, around 5-10% of the population experiences severe pain which can disrupt their life. It is estimated that 14-25% women of childbearing age experience period irregularities. Needless to say, we cannot disregard the struggles faced by the female population at any workplace. We have enough data to reveal the problems faced by women during their periods. We come across many who talk about the problems but seldom does anyone want to consider a solution for this.

History shows women’s roles and responsibilities have evolved

If we look at women’s history, in the 1800s, although women had many duties in the home and community and few political and legal rights, they worked either in factories or in domestic service for richer households or in a family business. Many women also carried out home-based work such as finishing garments, laundry, or preparing snacks to sell in the market or streets.

In the 1900s, while the primary role was taking care of their home and family, a few had taken up jobs like clerks, typists, operators, etc. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that women started working and contributing to the economy. While the first wave of feminism began in 1848, it hadn’t begun then in India. In a country like India, where women were refrained from basic rights, feminism was out of the question. In the beginning, it was mostly male reformers who advocated rights for women and feminism.

We live in the 21st century today where a lot has changed. While women play a significant role in the labor force today, less than 20% of India’s women work paid jobs, and female workforce participation has been declining steadily. There are various reasons for the decline, but the fact that the workforce is dominated by the male population doesn’t go unnoticed.

Laws should be made to encourage more women to work

We might expect men to understand female problems but that doesn’t necessarily ensure empathy by men towards employed women, for this world is highly capitalistic. Does that mean women should give up on working entirely? Definitely, not. Research has documented that organizations benefit from gender diversity. Women in the workforce have boosted productivity levels, constructive communication, confidence for young workers, team building, multidimensionality, etc. So women are indeed necessary at workplaces. It would however be unfair to ask women to work under conditions that are not conducive to their physical and mental health. Equality is more than just a lack of discrimination based on traits like sexuality, gender, race, and caste.

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Women are physiologically different from men and that shouldn’t stop them from working towards their goals. While menstruation isn’t a handicap, the issue cannot be deliberately set aside for women who experience excruciating pain.

Several countries recognise the need for paid period leave

In February 2023, Spain became the first European country to grant paid menstrual leaves of 3 days which can be extended up to 5 days only for women suffering from incapacitating pain. They need to provide a medical certificate from a doctor for the same.

Apart from Spain, other countries like Indonesia (policy introduced in 1948, reconstructed in 2003 to 2 days per cycle), Japan (labor law of 1947, article 68), South Korea (article 73), Taiwan (article 14), Vietnam (reform introduced in 2020, females not taking those leaves need to be paid extra), Zambia (one leave per month without requiring medical certificate) have paid menstrual leaves.

Fear of misuse should not deprive those who need it

A question has arisen over the misuse of paid menstrual leaves, but questions like these shouldn’t stop anyone from introducing laws for the needful ones. If the misuse of laws is the question, women can be asked to provide a medical certificate prescribed by a doctor for the same. Society needs to accept the importance of women in workplaces and should make the environment favorable for them to work.

Women at workplaces don’t want equality because they know they are different from men. Instead, they deserve equity and it should be female politicians who raise these types of concerns in the parliament instead of men since we live in a patriarchal society.

Our lawmakers need to understand that you don’t necessarily need to experience those specific problems to make laws on the same. If you create laws based on only what you have experienced, you are neglecting the struggles faced by other women. Women at workplaces don’t need equality because deserve equity.

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Aishwarya A

Cardiac Perfusionist by profession Strongly opinionated. Love to make people laugh Giving my share in making this world a better place for everyone. read more...

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