Menstrual Leave: Navigating the Intersection of Health, Equality, and Workplace Dynamics


Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani has sparked a debate on paid leave for menstruation at workplaces by opposing it. She was responding to the supplementary question raised by RJD MP Manoj Kumar Jha if the government was thinking of framing a law on menstrual leave. Clarifying that the government is not thinking of bringing any such law she said that menstruation and menstrual cycle does not make anyone handicap and is a natural part of women’s life journey.

Menstruation was considered to be a taboo in Indian society for many years. It took a long period for it to become acceptable and its credit goes to various forms of media. It is only in recent times that women have started to talk openly about menstrual cycles without being ashamed and men too have become considerate towards it to some extent. However, from time to time certain setbacks appear like a recent blockbuster movie that tries to trivialize menstruation and tries to push back the progress that has been made so far. After this, people on social media platforms were already fighting to make their point of view known. So when such a statement came from a policy maker it surprised both sides further escalating the debate around the subject.

Expressing disappointment, many people think that it is important to have a law providing the provision of paid leave as most of the women suffer from severe cramps during this period. Many women suffer from PCOS and other such issues which in turn can hamper their productivity to work. So having a provision of paid leaves can provide much-needed relief to women during such times. However, many people including women share the opinion of minister that it is a natural process and not every woman suffers from severe pain. Also, it reduces the employment opportunities for women who are already in the minority in the workforce. While answering in Parliament, the union minister said “We should not propose issues where women are denied equal opportunities just because somebody, who does not menstruate, has a particular viewpoint”. Now let us look at the data. Nearly 70% of younger women have stated that menstruation hinders their productivity, with 41% supporting paid leave for menstruation. Also, one cannot ignore the fact that most women suffer from heavy bleeding, severe stomach pain, nausea, and conditions such as endometriosis.

However, the Union Minister has clarified that this is her personal view and not that of the government and that in fact, the government has drafted a menstrual policy which includes provisions for leave and options for work from home. But in a society that does not understand menstruation and the issues related to it in a scientific manner, such statements from policymakers can trivialize an important issue. So what should be done? Firstly everyone needs to understand menstruation from a scientific perspective. This will help in creating awareness about what happens inside a woman’s body and the sufferings they go through during the menstrual cycle. When it comes to legislation, most of the policies related to women have been framed by men as they are in the majority in the parliament. A law based on healthy debate with suggestions from all the women parliamentarians as well as inputs from the common people are need of the hour. A law should made with provision of paid leave. Those who want to access it should do so while those who do not wish to can chose the other way. Looking at it from a larger lens, if India needs to be a world leader it should enable both men and women a healthy working environment. Only then, they can contribute to the nation building productively and will enable India to embark on becoming a superpower.

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