Women are 50% of the population in India, but the issues concerning women have not been a point of serious debate for long, policies to ensure larger participation of women in all social, economic, political sectors and in workforce is discouraged by people with patriarchal mindset. Talking about menstrual issues continues to be a taboo, any debate on menstrual leave policy and paid period leave is long contested, ignoring the statistics and refusing to acknowledge the biological challenges women face.
India’s women workforce participation has been the lowest in comparison to global numbers, unfortunately there is a further decline over the last 6 to 8 years. The reasons for the decline in female participation in the labour force are several - social, cultural, education, economic, hiring patterns, lack of pro-women policies, changing job market, lack of political will to enact policies to incentivize women employment etc.
And as women continue to enter the workforce in lesser numbers, it is important to acknowledge the biological challenges of women and the need for more equitable, comfortable working conditions and policies to promote women in workforce.
Studies show that more than 50% of mensurating females suffer from dysmenorrhea (pain associated with menstruation), over 65% of working women share concerns that they face discomfort and mental stress during 1-2 days of their menstrual cycle.
There are biological differences between men and women, women experiencing menstrual discomfort and suffering from illnesses related to menstruation (including dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and mood disorders) will benefit from the menstrual leave policy. Every woman has different challenges at different time in life when it comes to menstrual issues, hence there is a need for more equitable and pro-woman policies that covers most women and more importantly the voiceless ones, this will indeed make us a more gender just and progressive State and Nation.
The history of menstrual leave policy debate is more than a century, it was first been implemented in Russia in 20th century, it was removed in 1927 citing discrimination of women workforce by employers. In January 2023 Kerala granted menstrual leave for female students, in 1992 a GO was issued by Government of Bihar making provision for 2 days special leave for women working in government offices.
In 1947 Japan enacted the law to provide leave for mensurating women, but Article 68 of Labour Standard Law does not specify it as paid leave. Under Labour Act 2023, Article 13 in Indonesia women have right to 2 days leave per month but these are not additional leaves.
In Taiwan’s Gender Equality Act three additional days per year are granted to the 30 days of health-related leaves. In February 2023 Spain became the first country in Europe to implement a comprehensive menstrual paid leave policy for its women workforce. In Zambia since 2015 women are entitled for one day leave in a month know as Mother’s Day.
Some organizations in the private sector have embraced the demand for paid period leave acknowledging the biological challenges women employees face, also as a need to create more equitable work space for women, some of the examples being Zomato, Swiggy, Culture Machine, Mathrubhumi, Magzter, Byju's etc.
In January 2023, in response to a PIL filed in the Supreme Court, seeking the apex court direction to all State Governments to frame a policy for menstrual leave for female students and working women, and the Supreme Court on 24th February disposed the PIL suggesting the petitioner to make representation to Union Ministry for Women and Child Development.
Over many decades, efforts have been put in by the Governments, NGOs, Institutions to create awareness through campaigns and educational initiatives about menstrual hygiene, despite the efforts any discussion about menstruation is still taboo in our country. And the taboo nature continues in the society at large to neglect serious issues of menstrual problems women are undergoing for several decades.
One can understand that there is an argument against paid period leave, implementing it may discourage private companies from hiring women employees, for long across the globe organizations keep finding excuses to restrain from hiring women into their workforce and paid period leave could become one more reason and not a good one.
Many have been questioning the need for a policy now, when women have been working for decades without any such demand. But the fact is women have been suffering quietly trying to ‘fit in’ irrespective of the challenges, and as a civilized society we need to ask ourselves if we will continue to carry the patriarchy cycle forward or will we challenge status quo and make progress towards an equitable society.
Economic argument is that paid period leave can hinder businesses and increase financial burden, but when studies are saying women employee productivity can impact negatively due to menstruation, then the argument against paid period leave holds no water.
Also most importantly, Dr BR Ambedkar the architect of our constitution has ensured gender equity in our constitution, Article 15 (3) of the constitution states ‘Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children’, and Article 42 of the constitution states ‘The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief’.
Recently Ms. Ranjeeta Priyadarshini Law Student from Odisha who is travelling across India seeking support from every State Government to make Paid Period Leave a Legislation connected with me, after the release of a book on her sustained campaign by Pradeep Kumar Singh in Bengaluru.
Ranjeeta Priyadarshini and my interaction with Karnataka Labour Minister and the Health & Family Welfare Minister gave hope that there can be healthy and unbiased debate. Karnataka is a progressive State that always thrived on Buddha, Basavanna, Babasaheb, Kuvempu philosophy and thoughts, and it is important to recognize that gender equity is an important step towards gender equality. Karnataka Government indeed has a social responsibility to make Karnataka a pro-women workforce State and to ensure larger participation of women in the workforce by enacting equitable policies for its women.
No shying away from alternate views, economic and financial challenges and questions, pressure from across industries against the paid period leave, but if Government along with paid period leave considers incentives to organizations that employs more women, the concern of declining women participation and unwillingness to employ women across industries can also be addressed positively.
Only time will tell if Karnataka will be the 1st State in India to pass a gender just and pro-women Paid Period Leave Legislation applicable for both government and private sector.
KPCC General Secretary