India as a country has seen quite a few progressive reforms in the recent past and hopefully the list would increase in the coming days. However, there are certain issues that have always been a taboo in our country and one such issue is of ‘Menstruation’, more commonly called periods. It is very difficult to have an open discussion about it as people seem to get extremely uncomfortable and prefer to discuss it behind closed doors.

The debate on the ‘Menstruation Benefit Bill’ tabled by  Ninong Ering, a Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha representing Arunachal Pradesh in 2018, triggered widespread discussion on the need to have menstrual leave policy for working women every month.

Also Read: Should we have menstrual leave?

The Menstruation Benefits Bill seeks to provide women working in the public and private sectors two days of paid menstrual leave every month as well as better facilities for rest at the workplace during menstruation. The benefits would also be extended to female students of Class VIII and above in government recognized schools. However, the Bill if passed would not be path-breaking in any way as a girls’ school in Kerala had granted its students menstrual leave since 1912 and Bihar has had special leave for women for two days since 1992 (called the ‘Special Casual Leave’).

In 2016, John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, explained that period pain can be as “bad as having a heart attack”. A 2012 study titled Dysmenorrhea by Pallavi Latthe, Rita Champaneria and Khalid Khan states: “Dysmenorrhea (painful periods) is extremely common, and it may be severe enough to interfere with daily activities in up to 20 percent of women. One could also talk about the typical stereotypes that are associated with women and ask if the contention regarding ‘Menstruation’ would be the same if men had it too. A Post by Siobhan Fenton in the ‘Independent’ said that, “Men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated for abdominal pain. For women, the wait is 65 minutes for the same symptoms. It’s thought that this is because women are seen as exaggerating pain and being ‘dramatic’ due to sexist stereotypes”.

Countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan have been providing female employees with paid menstrual leave dating back to World War II. However, the humiliation and shame that a women had to undergo just to prove that she was actually on her periods led many women to avoid availing the leave all together.

Different bodies respond differently to the pain and discomfort experienced during menstruation.

Given the difficulties and biological complexities that women go through, I think it is extremely important that such a bill be passed and women be given every right to avail of this leave when required.

While speaking of the bill, it is important to keep in mind certain medical conditions that are associated with menstruation such as menorrhagia, endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease and the subsequent considerations of the above mentioned problems while formulating the bill in its entirety. It is obvious that such a ‘heated topic’ of discussion would invite opinions from all corners and people do have varying opinions on the same. A section of women, are not in favor of this bill because they believe that such a law would further the bias against them at workplace and they would need to deal with unfair treatments in the form of  hiring bias, lesser pays, slower promotions and lesser participation in board meetings than already prevalent. Can we blame them? No.

This is exactly what needs to be changed. Women should not be punished for their biological framework. If women need to tolerate their pain in silence just to ‘fit’ in and not be outcaste then we genuinely have failed as a nation. It is important to remind ourselves that when we talk about equality at workplace it means equality of all working conditions for men and women and not just those that can be accepted and ignored depending on convenience. This is not a choice that women make every month, so if someone finds it difficult to be at the work for conditions not under their control then they should simply be allowed to avail the leave.

It is essential that for such a law to be in strict practice, the dialogue and conversation around it have to immediately start and well formulated working policies as well as labor laws need to be in place.

There are enough bias against women at workplace and otherwise, so for this bill to be successfully passed it is very important that a sensitive, well chalked out and carefully planned policy should be incorporated.

This is not a new issue, but the conversation and dialogue around it would likely create a ripple in the right direction.

In a country where the word menstruation is met with raised eyebrows and disgust, proposing for a ‘Menstrual Leave’ policy will nevertheless be difficult but will be a much needed change in the right direction.

Views are the author’s own.

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