Among the million gender stereotypes women brave every minute of every day, the most outdated one perhaps is that which comes once a month to stain our underpants and stigmatise our bodies. Periods. Menstruation is still a taboo in India, a hush-hush affair that travels only across secret female networks through hidden pads and whispers (pun intended). Why do we do that? Periods are painful, messy, special, natural. Shouldn’t everyone know about it?
Food delivery app Zomato, in an open letter, recently announced “up to 10 days of period leaves” in a year for menstruating employees, including both women and trans people, to “foster a culture of trust, truth and acceptance.” This decision has unleashed a torrent of opinions on social media, wherein a popular Twitter account tweeted to its one million-plus followers, “Giving period-leaves is a terrible idea and will lead to further discrimination against women.”
With thousands of people nodding in agreement to this perspective, it posits a high risk for menstruation to remain a stigma in India. The dispersion of such a short-sighted argument calls for a reinforcement of the importance of period leaves in the social movement for women empowerment. Let’s begin.
1. Period Leave Can Break The Taboo Around Menstruation
In a country where women turn expert smugglers when “that time of the month” approaches, in carrying a harmless packet of sanitary napkins inside a specifically black packet from the shop to their homes, calling periods a “taboo” wouldn’t be an understatement.
Ladies, how many of us have had to take half-days from work or make excuses for suffering from “lady problems” or “stomach ache” during our periods? Offering employees a workday off during their cycle is a positive step towards breaking this taboo of “impurity” that surrounds menstruation. It’ll create a confident space for women to reclaim their bodies without embarrassment.
2. Taking A Day Off To Care For Yourself Does NOT Make You Weak
It is a flawed argument that taking a couple of days off during your period will position you as someone who is incapable of doing work in equal measure to men, or will disadvantage women by deeming them as the “weaker sex.” This has been an opinion espoused even by journalist Barkha Dutt in the past, who in 2017 wrote an article headlined – “I’m a feminist. Giving women a day off for their period is a stupid idea.” – which claimed that a menstrual leave would only “emphasise that there is something spectacularly otherworldly about a bodily function.”
But that is exactly what a period leave would serve to counter! To tell men that periods are normal, monthly occurrences that may sometimes require medical attention. It will, in fact, challenge the “otherworldly” notion attached to menstrual cycles, by placing it alongside other situations for which taking a day off is “acceptable” – such as a headache or an upset stomach.
3. Period Pain Is Far More Severe Than People Think
Period pain has long been dismissed as mere “stomach ache” by people who don’t experience it. But ask the women who menstruate, and some will tell you that they dread that time of the month for the emotional and physical baggage it brings. A medical condition for which painkillers and injections exist can’t be deemed mild, especially when it comes with symptoms like diarrhoea, body ache, bloating, not to mention, the mood swings PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) brings.
In 2018, Marie Claire quoted John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, as saying that patients say dysmenorrhea, or period cramps, are “almost as bad as having a heart attack,” often exacerbated by pre-existing conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
Influencer Kusha Kapila who has been vocal about her experiences with PCOS also wrote, “I have observed that period pain becomes worse with age… Earlier this week, I was terrorised by my period to an extent that work suffered.”
4. It Will Create Awareness About The Trans Community
A majority of people are still unaware that the phenomenon of menstruation isn’t limited to women. Remember when author JK Rowling was labelled a TERF for claiming that only women menstruate? With increasing discussions around the LGBTQIA community and their rights, it is only fitting that awareness must be spread about the fact that even trans, non-binary, and queer people can menstruate. Offering period leaves to all those who need it, not just women, is important, for it will inspire inclusivity and sensitivity at workplace.
5. No Uterus, No Opinion
This is perhaps the all-encompassing crux of the argument that can dismantle naysayers with a single finger snap. No uterus, no opinion. The simple fact of the matter is that men, who have long been the forerunners of patriarchal narratives in society, should not make any decisions on part of women and their bodies. No one, except the individual who is menstruating, should be allowed to judge how much pain is debilitating, how to deal with it, or how to express it. Our experiences aren’t up for auction.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Watch our video on the Period Leaves Debate