Home > Lifestyle News > Health And Fitness News > Article > Its that time of the month Is India ready to have a menstrual leave policy

It's ‘that time’ of the month: Is India ready to have a menstrual leave policy?


Updated on: 30 December,2023 09:30 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Aakanksha Ahire |

Menstruating individuals in India even today hide sanitary products from the eyes of the world, let alone declaring it in their workplace by availing menstrual leaves. This highlights how menstruation continues to be laced with taboo and stigma.’ In such a scenario, is India ready to have a menstrual leave policy in place? Experts reflect

It's ‘that time’ of the month: Is India ready to have a menstrual leave policy?

Representational images. Pic/iStock

Key Highlights

  1. Menstrual leave policy might act as a hindrance in the way of equal opportunity for women
  2. Only Bihar has been offering menstrual leaves twice a month since 1992
  3. In absence of a menstrual leave policy, companies must keep working hours flexible

From running nations to giant companies, women have done it all. Yet, a natural, biological aspect of women’s lives continues to be a subject of taboo in the Indian society.  
Recently, the statements made by Union Women and Child Development (WCD) minister Smriti Irani about the provision for paid menstrual leave stirred up controversy. The nation saw a mix of reactions with some scathing of the minister’s remarks and some agreeing with her.  
Although the issue concerning the need for a menstrual leave might look like a straightforward one, there are many underlying aspects that must be considered. Ideally, framing a menstrual paid leave for those menstruating might provide them a relief keeping the health aspect in mind, however, doing so could also reinforce certain stereotypes against women. 
To get to the depth of it, Mid-Day Online roped in experts from relevant sectors to explore the various angles that concern the controversy at hand.  
A summary of the controversy
In response to a question asked by Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) member in the Rajya Sabha on menstrual hygiene policy, Irani said, “As a menstruating woman, menstruation and the menstruation cycle is not a handicap, it’s a natural part of women’s life journey. Issues where women are denied equal opportunities must not be proposed just because somebody who does not menstruate has a particular viewpoint towards menstruation.” 
The word handicap refers to a hindrance that slows the success or progress of something. 
Shreya Sharma, laywer and founder, Rest The Case says, “The minister opposed the Menstrual Hygiene Policy because she did not want women to face discrimination and harassment in the workplace over it. According to the minister, menstruation is not a ‘handicap’ and it shouldn't warrant a specific policy for ‘paid leave’. Paid Menstrual leave can become a boon or a curse for women just like how our society sees reservations for the SC/ST/OBC category.”
Expanding on the same, Bhaavya Roy, lawyer and founder, Kranti Law Offices says, “In my opinion, Hon. Smriti Irani, raised the voice of concern of every woman employee and the practical underlays of such a policy. The offering of a menstrual leave might act as a hindrance in the way of equal opportunity if the same is added as an additional benefit for the menstruating workforce. The fact that the minister called it the same as a handicap is merely a reflection of the general opinion of our public.” 
The current scenario concerning menstrual leaves 
Presently, there is no legislative provision for menstrual leaves in India. Only Bihar has been offering menstrual leaves twice a month since 1992. The Kerala government too recently announced that it will grant menstrual leaves to female students at state universities. 
Sharma informs that The Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2018 which stipulates two days of menstrual leaves and better rest facilities at the workplace is yet to receive assent. 
A few countries like Spain, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Zambia, and parts of China have implemented menstrual leave policies. However, as stated by Roy, “Women deter from availing menstrual leave and only 0.9 per cent to 1.5 per cent avail menstrual leave.” Some of the reasons behind women not availing of their period leaves in these countries could be to avoid declaring in the office about being on periods, to save themselves from missing any opportunity at work and also to protect their privacy. 
Repercussion of framing a menstrual policy in India
Both Sharma and Roy believe that formulating a menstrual leave policy is a noble act but keeping in mind the perception of Indian society towards menstruation, a policy of such kind might not yield desired benefits for menstruating employees.  
Roy states, “Menstruating women have been facing discrimination on religious, physiological and sentimental grounds. Thus, there is no doubt that putting in place a menstrual leave is going to further act as a dead weight for working women and that it will surely be bereft of the concept of equality. Women might also get accused of misusing this facility. It might do more harm than good.” 
Sharma opines, “Granting paid menstrual leave to menstruating individuals will increase their productivity and motivate them to perform better at work but this is a debatable topic.” 
According to her, a menstrual policy can turn out to be disadvantageous for menstruating women in many ways. For example, the introduction of mandatory paid menstrual leave may lead to a bias in hiring due to the financial costs to employers.
Further, India grapples with deep-rooted societal taboos surrounding menstruation. There might be resistance or stigma associated with taking menstrual leaves, potentially leading to discrimination or negative perceptions against women in the workplace.
Ensuring fair and consistent implementation of the policy across diverse sectors and regions could be challenging. Monitoring leaves without compromising privacy might also pose difficulties. 
Concerns like the impact on workforce productivity and staffing might be a problem, leading to reluctance to adopt such policies, especially in industries with tight schedules or limited manpower.
Crafting a legal framework for menstrual leave might require clear definitions, duration, and guidelines, which could be complex to establish within existing labor laws. 
Role of companies’ HR in ensuring a smooth working environment for menstruating employees 
Most offices in India recognise the diverse needs and issues of employees and offer personalised flexibility. 
Abha Nair, HR head of Zee Learn Ltd says, “Flexibility in terms of health conditions or for special needs should be given regardless of gender to ensure the overall well-being of an employee. There is already unintended bias prevalent in most organisations about women taking breaks due to marriage, maternity or even raising children. There are stereotypes and invisible barriers based on gender roles meant or not meant for a woman. In the case of menstrual leave, it may reinforce false and sexist positions relating to workplace productivity if women take time off from work which would lead to inequitable treatment.” 
As a way out, Zee Learn Ltd does adopt women-friendly policies. There is a Work-From-Home policy available on a case-to-case basis as present in most Indian offices. Nair further states, “Enough flexibility is given in terms of work timing as we are more task and productivity-oriented in our philosophy. We are trying to create a world of equals and the menstrual cycle is a natural biological process, it’s not a disablement in any form nor is it a sickness. As far as we give flexibility in terms of work time and we have an arrangement of WFH, we do not propagate a special leave of such kind. We cannot discriminate and generalise it for all women.” 
On the other hand, Ankit Dangi, HR head of Smaaash opines, “The government should consider framing a policy addressing menstrual leave for workplaces. This is particularly important because, in many organisations, female employees may not feel comfortable discussing their menstrual needs with managers. A standardised policy would not only normalise these discussions but also provide clear guidelines for both employers and employees, fostering a more inclusive and supportive work environment. Besides, the idea of menstrual leave, in itself, does not pose a threat to equal opportunities for women in the workplace. Opportunities are ideally based on performance and deliverables. However, concerns may arise if such policies are misused or if there is a perception that they could be misused. Employees must approach these benefits with a sense of ownership and accountability. ” 
This said, Dangi also mentions, “While there isn't a dedicated menstrual leave policy in place, our company recognises the importance of supporting female employees during their menstrual cycles. Our female employees have the option to use their accrued leaves or explore the possibility of working from home. This approach provides a degree of flexibility, enabling women to manage their work responsibilities while addressing their health needs.” 
Mid-Day Online also spoke to two women entrepreneurs who majorly agree with the statements made by the union minister. 
Chetna Israni, co-founder, Morning Star BrandCom says, “I believe a menstrual leave policy allows instant and perhaps unsolicited access to my menstruation calendar for my employer. I am apprehensive if everybody will approve of that. Besides, a manager lacking sensitivity can use their access to your menstrual calendar and probably make loose statements like, ‘Is that why you are moody?’, ‘Oh, this project is on XYZ date, so you will not be available.’ There is a chance with managers lacking sensitivity that can lead to women losing out on opportunities or being subjected to discrimination.” 
Sharing her opinion, Sonia Varghese,  founder, ROAR Communications and PR states, “It is crucial to first acknowledge the evolving needs and requirements of diverse groups, including women and the LGBTQI community. This includes providing sanitary facilities, private spaces, and access to necessary resources for managing health and well-being. Understanding and addressing these fundamental requirements contribute to a workplace culture that prioritises the dignity and comfort of all employees. Once these basic needs are met, the conversation can then progress to more complex issues such as the implementation of policies like menstrual leave.” 
A way out
When on periods, menstruating individuals often experience an overall bodily discomfort with cramps being the most common. Dr Danny Laliwala, consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai shares that abdominal cramps are the most common and occur due to an increase in the prostaglandins which are released during menstruation. Cramps in most women can also be due to fibroids, endometriosis, or polyps. 
Laliwala states, “Menstrual cramps differ from person to person. It can be so mild that a woman may not even notice them or can be severe, where a woman needs to take some rest or a mild painkiller. These cramps usually start in the lower abdomen and may radiate to the inner sides of the thighs or towards the back. Menstrual pain can be very subjective. Some may be able to bear high-intensity pain while some may not even bear the smallest amount of pain. So, it would be difficult to judge and grant leave to everyone. Each workplace should frame its own rules and decide whether to grant women leave for such circumstances.” 
The health expert says, menstrual cramps can be relieved by just taking some rest. Lots of oral fluids should be consumed during these days. A pain killer like NSAIDS (ibuprofen) or those containing mefenamic acid or a smooth muscle relaxant can be helpful. Gentle massage over the lower abdomen, pelvic exercises, applying heat or having a healthy diet may also help with menstrual discomfort. 
Both legal experts, Sharma and Roy suggest that even if paid menstrual leave is not legalised in our country, companies must keep working hours and workload flexible so that women can get the work done without any hindrances. For example, when they are facing intense period cramps, they can opt for a half day at work. 
Additionally, Roy states that in India, the Shops and Establishments Act and the Factories Act already lay down laws regarding sick leaves. Instead of making it a tedious task for every state machinery to have specific leaves for menstruating women, the option could be to provide the same on workable hours, generalising it for a day or two as a voluntary employee benefit. “In my opinion, with most organisations working in a hybrid mode post-Covid, the need for menstrual leave may be redundant.” 

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Mid-Day Web Stories

Mid-Day Web Stories

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK