Working women matter. Period.
Published: 29th July 2017 11:30 PM |
There is overwhelming support among urban Indians for the proposal to give one day’s leave to women workers during their period of menstruation each month. A survey by this newspaper found that 86.5 per cent were in favour of the idea, which is not yet on the table of India’s policymakers.
Further, contrary to expectations, support cut across all barriers of gender, age and marital status. Surprisingly, the 84.7 per cent assent by men almost matched the 87.7 per cent enthusiasm by women.
The survey was conducted in 12 cities across six states—Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra and Odisha. A total of 1,266 respondents were asked if they would welcome it if women were given a day’s leave each month to spare them the physical discomfort of working through their monthly period.
Support for the idea exceeded 80 per cent across the divides of gender, age and marital status. While 88.8 per cent of those in the age group of 20-30 supported it, 83.8 per cent of those aged 30 or higher did so too. Similarly, married respondents (87.4 per cent) were in favour quite as much as the unmarried (84.2 per cent).
Female respondents were also asked if they would be embarrassed to apply for period leave. Findings show that embarrassment was not a big concern, again, cutting across the divides of age and marital status. Overall, 67.3 per cent of women said they would not be embarrassed. Among younger women, 72.7 per cent said they wouldn’t be inhibited at all.
Among women aged 30 or higher, 41.2 per cent said inhibition was indeed a concern. Similarly, 41.5 per cent of married women cited embarrassment as a factor. Seventy-one per cent of unmarried women said it was no concern.
Regionally, support for period leave was consistently high with Kerala reporting 91 per cent for the proposal and Odisha reporting the least, 79.1 per cent. Women were the most vocally for it in Telangana (95.7) and Kerala (95.2). The most vocal support from men came from Tamil Nadu with 91.8 per cent of male respondents ticking assent.
How this Leave Works Around the World
It is in the East that the concept has gained momentum
According to Japan’s 1947 Labor Standards Law, women suffering from painful periods
or those whose jobs might aggravate period pain are allowed seirikyuuka (meaning physiological leave). The law was implemented in view of the limited sanitary facilities available for women at workplaces including factories, mines.
Taiwan’s menstrual leave legislation is more recent. A 2013 amendment to the country’s Act of Gender Equality in Employment guarantees female workers three days of menstrual leave a year, in addition to the 30 days of half-paid sick leave allotted to all workers.
Only three of the country’s 24 provinces — Anhui, Shanxi and Hubei — have menstrual leave in China. In the central Anhui Province, women workers are allowed to take one or two days off on production of a certificate from a legal medical institute or hospital.
Indonesian women are entitled to take two days a month of menstrual leave, though many companies simply ignore the law.
Menstrual leave came into force in South Korea in 2001. The policy has lately come under fire from Korea’s men’s rights activists, who, despite Korea’s heavily male-dominated work culture, see it as a form of discrimination. An experiment to give menstruation leave to university students ended in failure.
A programme titled Mother’s Day gives women a day off from work every month in the African country.
One online shopping portal Sasto Deal introduced menstrual leave policy for women workers in 2016.
Contrary to popular notions, menstrual leave has not been a major issue in the West. The
idea was floated in Russia in 2013, and more recently Italy, but to no avail. In the UK, a company Coexist announced a policy to allow women
to take time off during their periods. Nike has
had menstrual leave in their code of conduct since 2007.
How Effective is it?
● Wherever it has been implemented, menstrual leave has not proven to be very successful. For instance, women in Japan do not take advantage of the menstrual leave policy for a number of reasons. One professional woman worker told The Guardian newspaper, “If you take menstrual leave, you’re basically broadcasting to the entire office which days of the month you have your period.” Many women tend to use regular sick leave rather than availing of menstrual leave, the report said.
● In an article in Global Times, Shanghai-based writer Yang Lan mentions that employees in China are evaluated and paid on the basis of their workload. “Workers have fixed responsibilities that they are required to fulfill. So if a woman takes menstrual leave, she will have to make up for lost hours, which will result in increased work pressure. Sure, women suffering from debilitating dysmenorrhea, a medically recognised pain in the pelvis that occurs during menstruation, should not be required to work. But the “bloody” fact is that accepting paid leave whenever a woman has cramps will ultimately do more harm than good for our cause, as it weakens us at the workplace,” she writes.
Just a normal physiological function
Surprisingly, doctors who spoke to Express on the principle of period leave said menstruation is just that time of the month and should be treated as a normal physiological function rather than as a sickness.
Dr Suman Singh, gynaecologist, Bengaluru
Women risk ghettoising themselves if leave is mandated during menstruation. It is something that people work through, be they construction workers or work-at-home professionals. Only a small proportion of women experience debilitating pain and leave might be justified then. If they have severe cramps, medical help is available.
Dr Chitra Ramamurthy, gynaecologist, Apollo Hospital
If women have been working during their cycles all these years, they can continue to do so. I think it is a normal biological function. In cases of severe endometriosis, there is pain and in such cases they may want to take leave.
A new law required
In India, the question of menstrual leave has never engaged policymakers’ attention. Recently, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, increased maternity leave for all women employees from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children
■ The law requires every establishment with over 50 employees to provide creche facilities for mothers. Such mothers are permitted to make four visits during working hours to look after and feed the child in the creche.
■ Giving menstrual leave to women would require making a separate law that applies to both public and private sectors. Legal experts Express spoke to said the law would have to be comprehensive enough to plug any loopholes that might open up.
Kaleeswaram Raj, SC advocate
The legislative feasibility of menstrual leave has been demonstrated in at least a few countries which have separate enactments for it lest it become a matter of selective indulgence by a few employers.
Let’s take it case by case
If menstrual leave was made mandatory, would it make companies think twice before hiring women? Typically, HR managers said workers are hired for talent rather than other attributes.
A senior IT industry representative
Before we introduce a broad policy, there has to be a survey on how many women actually feel the need for it. While the menstrual cycle might be extremely painful for some, it might not be for others
Moksha Srivastava, co-founder and CMO of Wheelstreet
Our focus is on skill sets and talents, immaterial of gender. I’ve come across intense debates on exclusive policies, but we have experienced at par productivity between men and women regardless of health, time and travel constraints
Prerna Chauhan, HR manager, Media Mantra
Our company does not have a menstrual leave policy but would be flexible about it