In the first week of January, Lok Sabha MP Ninong Ering from Arunachal Pradesh moved a private members’ bill – the Menstruation Benefit Bill 2017.
The bill proposes that women working in both the public and private sectors be given two days of paid menstrual leave each month. The bill also looks to provide better rest facilities for women at their workplace during menstruation.
Ering had also asked Lok Sabha whether the government has any plans to propose menstrual leave for working women. The Ministry of Women and Children Development said there was no such proposal and that there was also no plan to pilot legislation on the issue. They did, however, reply with a list of various awareness efforts for adolescent girls.
The bill also looks to provide better rest facilities for women at their workplace during menstruation.
Ering cited research conducted at University College, London, to assert that women don’t only face discomfort during menstruation but also see a decline in productivity on the first and second days of their cycle. He argues, therefore, that menstrual leave is desirable from the perspective of both female employees and their employers.
The debate over implementing such legislation has been contentious. Some believe that it’s necessary for supporting women during a time that is biologically inherent. Even large corporations like Nike have been offering their employees paid menstrual leave since 2007.
One side argues that the severe period pain mandates menstrual leave. Some women’s symptoms are exacerbated by diseases like PCOS and endometriosis, and thus it is especially important for them to be able to take leave.
Mumbai based digital media company, Culture Machine Media, sparked a slew of discussion when they announced their ‘First Day of Period’ leave policy. The initiative gives women the first day of their period off; with the goal of making the workplace more women-friendly.
The company also kick-started an online petition urging India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Women and Child Development to apply this policy across the country.
In contrast, others view the move as regressive, contending that such leave could allow for additional means of gender bias in the hiring process. Men (those of whom who don’t menstruate) wouldn’t require this time off and thus it would be ideal for the company to hire them over women.
Some maintain that it is a form of tokenism, and thus likely to do more harm than good. Organisations and professionals should handle the issue as they see fit rather than being bound by legislation. Deep Bajaj explains that since women’s cycles don’t all align, and because not all women experience the same symptoms, it would defy logic to mandate a 2-day leave. However, it does need to be stated that millions of women do suffer debilitating pain every month, and for them a mandated leave would be a blessing.
Opposers also reason that it would be far more beneficial and effective to remove the taxation on feminine hygiene products, focus on getting more widely available and safer products and providing safer and cleaner facilities for women. However, these two issues do not need to be an either/or problem – both issues of availability of menstrual products and menstrual leave can be tackled simultaneously.
While it is uncertain when or if the Menstruation Benefit Bill 2017 will be seriously considered in government, the disputation that is occurring is a positive. It’s bringing forward the topic of menstruation and women’s issues that are typically treated as taboo to the public eye, which is certainly a step in the right direction. Employers ought to be cognizant of women’s health and sensitive to women employees’ requirements, whether or not it is a government-mandated step.
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