Normalizing the Biological Factor: A Period Leave Saga
A recent move introducing ‘period leaves’ for the women employees by one of the most dominating Indian Restaurant Aggregator and Food Delivery Startup, Zomato has been received by the nation with mixed emotions. While a part of the country’s population is beaming with joy, the other half is seeing this move as an ‘Anti- Feminist’ move which portrays women as weaker sections of the society and believes that this ‘privilege’ is given to women violates the norms of equality.
EQUALITY & EQUITY
The rising debate between “Career has no gender” and “Equality & Equity are different concepts”, I chose to go with the later and thought of penning down my reasons for doing so. Technically speaking, equality is a concept of being equal in rights, status, advantage, etc. If you view the move strictly in terms of this; the deepest voice in your brain would say, this is not equality. Let’s try and look at it like this, a car race event is organized and the person who reaches Delhi in a minimum no of days gets a fully sponsored trip to London.
Rules and Regulations remain the same for all the participants except the starting point. It is decided that one participant would start from Noida, the other from Mumbai, and another one from Kolkata. Let this process in your mind and feel equality go out of the window. Now, this is where the concept of equity steps in to build a bridge towards equality. To treat two people as equals, they should be placed at the same level. In a country where school-going girls are asked to strip in a playground, to prove that they’re not menstruating.
Where millions of girls drop out of school every year after they start menstruating due to the unhygienic conditions and lack of awareness simply because it’s a taboo to talk about ‘it’. Not even the deadliest of diseases have such a stigma attached to them as much as it is attached to Menstruation. It starts with the chemist wrapping up the sanitary napkins in a black paper to you checking your clothes now and then for that ‘shaming stain’ and the real ordeal doesn’t even begin till you have to make up an excuse in front of your boss or colleagues.
We, the Gen Z people who think of ourselves as the most progressive generation will be surprised to know that the Government Girls School in Tripunithura allowed the students to take period leave during the annual examinations back in the year 1912! The then School Master took note of women employees and students being absent on the days of ongoing menstruation and got an order from the Education Director allowing the students unable to appear for exams due to menstruation to write the paper at a later date.
We are still raging debates about this 208 years later while doing nothing constructive to improve the situation. Our laid back attitude can be seen in the way we sidelined the Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017 tabled by Mr. Ninong Ering, a member of Parliament Arunachal Pradesh. The Bill proposed a 2 day paid period leave for the women employees working both in the public and private sectors. The HRD Ministry and the Ministry of Women & Child Development did not heed to this suggestion even when an online petition was started by a Mumbai based company – Culture Machine, to persuade the ministry to apply the policy across the country. The Company had also started the ‘first day period leave policy’ for its female employees in July last year.
PERIOD LEAVE RULES AND LAWS ACROSS THE GLOBE
Several countries have the practice of giving paid period leaves to their female employees and enacted rules to effectuate Menstruation Leaves some of which are listed below:-
1. Indonesia has granted paid leaves for the first 2 days of Menstruation under its Labour Act, 1948;
2. Japan as per their Labour Standards Law, 1947 has been giving Seirikyuuka (Physiological Leaves) to women suffering from painful periods or those whose jobs might worsen the period cramps;
3. Taiwan’s recent amendment in the Gender Equality Act allows three days of menstrual leave in a year;
In many other countries, discussions on the enactment of such rules have been going on and off. Even though laws are still to be drafted, companies around the world are introducing policies for period leaves and making it a less stigmatic experience for their female employees.
I hope that we as a nation strive towards creating a society that is passionate and accepting so that we do not leave our coming generation carrying sanitary napkins wrapped in a black paper and looking away from the television screen playing a Pad/ Tampon Commercial. Let’s normalize the normal functioning of the human body.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Devika Raj, who is a practicing Advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court, Chandigarh.
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