When I think back to the first few months of my period, it isn’t so much the pain that I remember as the embarrassment. I would do anything to not walk up to the cupboard in my parents’ bedroom where the toiletries were stored. I’d lie through the pain and gritted teeth to avoid the conversation. It was a lonely experience.
So when Culture Machine kicked off a debate by giving its woman employees the first day of their monthly cycles off and got everyone from Reuters to my parlourwali aunty talking about it, it was exciting because change seemed to be in the offing.
Sure, the move has received just as much backlash as approval, with some people calling paid leave for a biological function regressive.
Haven’t women until now swallowed an asprin, braved the pain and gotten s*** done without making a big deal of it? Should entitled, self-aggrandising young women seek more leave that might only end up showing all women as not comparatively competent? But hey, Sherlock, it’s worth remembering that men don’t bleed five days in a row every month.
And isn’t every revolution sparked by a whining brat who wanted just a bit more? And just how much is too much to ask in a patriarchal world where even the default temperature of your AC is set to suit the metabolic rate of a middle-aged man? It wouldn’t be widely off the mark to guess that if it were men who bled, the FOP leave would be a given.
If you can work your way through that time of the month, more power to you! But to those who can’t, let the choice be open. Menstruation, after all, affects women in different ways and the pain, as a London-based study showed, can range from a nagging discomfort to the severity of a heart attack.
And isn’t the argument that more sick leaves be given to women beside the point? If anything, it reaffirms the taboo around menstruation and the cultural prejudice to keep it a secret.
Women should be able to have the choice of taking a day off when they have excruciating pain, and assert that it is menstrual leave. The idea should become so common and female biology so demystified that seeking an FOP is met with a shrug, not a raised eyebrow.
In countries such as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines, there are legislations that either enable or mandate menstrual leave. In the Philippines, the law entitles female employees to one day’s menstrual leave per month. An employer who denies this benefit is liable to pay a fine or can be imprisoned.
Niharika Hema Raj, High Court advocate, said, it is important that India set an example for the world. Such a provision can be brought in through an amendment to existing labour laws, she said.
Sonamika Ray, headmistress, Capital High School, Bhubaneswar
Onset of menstruation is usually noticed in girls studying in Class VII. While a handful of them have prior knowledge of periods, many are unaware. We cater to several slum localities. Our children’s mothers are mostly daily-wagers who do not have the time to explain to them what menstruation is. Hence, we hold orientation classes for girls of Class VII. We explain to them that menstruation is normal. We tell them about sanitary napkins and about the body aches associated with the first day of period. But the problem in co-education schools is that there are fewer girls and they feel shy to discuss menstruation.
Dr Gayathri Kamath, gynaecologist, Fortis Hospital
I don’t think leave from work is required during menstruation. Women with medical conditions like fibroids or endometriosis have severe pain and hence they may want to avail it. I think a woman should take it in her stride to work during periods. There is no reason for a normal physiological function to be considered a sickness.