The Feminist View
Earlier this month, a Mumbai-based media firm Culture Machine announced a new ‘period policy’ to give its female employees the first day of their monthly cycles off. As might be expected, social media and causerati gave it a positive reaction and kicked off a wider debate, basically saying how sweet. Soon a change.org petition materialized and gathered much moss.
At last count, it had some 28,800 signatures.
In a video released by the company that went viral, Devleena S Majumdar, Culture Machine’s head of HR says, “We have to break the taboo. I know that some critics have said that women will be embarrassed when they take this day off, at telling the whole world they have started their period. But when you get pregnant and apply for maternity leave, you aren’t embarrassed. So why would women be embarrassed about menstrual leave?”But embarrassment is not the only concern that has arisen from this debate. The main critique of this enthusiasm is that it would only benefit women in the organised sector, ignoring 118 million women workers who are engaged in the unorganised sector in India. And they constitute 97 per cent of the total women workers in the country. So essentially this is not a 360 degree women issue.
Feminist reaction to similar proposals in the west has not been too enthusiastic. Feminist writer Katy Waldman wrote in Slate that the menstrual leave policy upholds the patriarchal notion of looking at menstruation as a disability that weakens and incapacitates a woman employee. “Its very idea derives from the premise that a woman is a delicate, gendered being and in need of rest and seclusion at that time of the month. These policies reinforce bizarre ideas about female anatomy and fertility,” she said.
The other concern raised by this debate is the rebound impact on employability of women. This argument goes: If paid period leave became mandatory, companies would think hard before hiring women and hire men instead. There’s a cost to having employees avail offs a couple of days every month and that’s bound to recoil on women both in terms of their numbers in the workforce as well as the already existing pay gap between men and women.
In India, feminists say employers are already counting the costs of the new maternity leave policy legislated three months ago. It doubled the time off for working mothers and mandated 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. Employers are sure to tote up the costs of this, such as employee benefits, and the cost of training and hiring a temporary replacement.