Gloria Steinem, in her essay ‘If Men Could Menstruate’, said-
“Whatever a ‘superior’ group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever an ‘inferior’ group has will be used to justify its plight. Black men were given poorly paid jobs because they were said to be ‘stronger’ than white men, while all women were relegated to poorly paid jobs because they were said to be ‘weaker’…Logic has nothing to do with oppression.”
We are celebrating International Women’s Day today. Today is the day to cherish womanhood. One essential aspect of womanhood that empowers women with the ability to bear a new life is sadly one of the least discussed: menstruation. What’s worse, women often suffer discrimination, exclusion and sexist comments not only on a personal but also on a professional level. While conditions like endometriosis and dysmenorrhea are more common and terrible than they appear to be (thanks to the taboo), such medical conditions hold women back every month from leading normal lives. The Endometriosis Society of India estimates that 25 million Indian women suffer from severe or chronic pain during their menstruation. While young girls dropping out of schools due to lack of separate or hygienic toilets is one major concern in India, period pain and difficulty in handling periods are factors that discourage women from entering jobs and thereby affect their employability prospects. The low and dropping female labour force participation rates in India underscore the need to retain women in the workforce.
In the year 2020, the food delivery giant Zomato announced that all its female and transgender employees could avail ten days of paid menstrual or period leaves annually. Many companies, including Flipkart and ShareChat, followed by. More than a trend, this is a persisting indication of the fact that the taboo behind menstruation is finally giving way to fostering a culture of acceptance.
However, critics also fear that this will trigger gender discrimination owing to the exceptional and gendered treatment of women at workplaces. They assert that it shall undermine the progress we have made in terms of gender equality. While many advocate for period leaves to create awareness about something that has been hushed up for long, some people also consider this as a significant hindrance for women who aspire to engage in occupations that have traditionally been designated for men. Journalists, including Barkha Dutt, discussed how women must not ask for preferential treatment owing to a biological default like menstruation because they think it manifests weakness and contradicts the assertion of women’s capabilities being at par with that of men and exacerbate the hiring bias they are already facing.
But Techvanto thinks otherwise. The company has recently announced a mandatory and paid one-day period leave every month for its female employees with immediate effect. Co-Founder Mr Ruthvik Chowdary says-
“I feel a workplace should always be comfortable and warm, be it virtual or offline. One can only be productive if one can focus properly. Women don upon so many roles. The least we can do is help them feel comfortable and accepted at their workplace. We want to create a supportive and equitable work culture so they can perform their best at their workplace.”
Being successful at work does not imply ignoring one’s biological distress. Employability and workplace efficiency must be measured using objective markers that are specific to the job at hand. Every employee, whether a male, a woman, or a transgender, has the right to work if these objective conditions are satisfied. We must provide room within this objective for individuals to take care of their minds and bodies as needed. Menstruation is unquestionably natural. However, some people suffer from it severely, while others seem to sail through it. Giving menstrual employees the choice of taking a day off is an essential step toward creating inclusive work environments that do not regard employees as enslaved people who must work without ever being sick.
Ms Hema Gulati, an employee at Techvanto, welcomed the decision and said-
“I believe this is a great and much-needed initiative. I know some women who suffer in each menstrual cycle with tremendous pain. It is really important for all of us to accept the biological differences in the workplace. I am delighted that Techvanto is contributing to it.”
One cannot but welcome Zomato’s move enough, if for nothing else, to prompt a discussion on periods and the many issues intersecting with it – period pain, access and awareness about menstrual hygiene, menstrual taboos, dearth of related public infrastructure – seldom openly had in the mainstream in India. Unless we take a step forward in this direction, women will never get vocal enough to break the tags of being “lazy” or “unprofessional”. Above everything, we need to ensure corporates also create an environment where women can utilise such resources effectively and without shame.