Period leaves : Happy to bleed!
-not an admission of weakness, rather an acceptance of need.
Neglecting a few obvious but uninvited misogynistic responses and reactions, Zomato introducing up to 10 days ‘period leave’ for their female and transgender employees was a refreshing and wholeheartedly welcomed decision. From menstruation being linked to a sign of the ‘weaker sex’ to being addressed openly (kind of), this is the breakthrough we need. This is not only because it turns out to be exclusionary but also because it reinforces a lot of detrimental ideas about womanhood.
Not stopping here, it’s time for organizations all over to consider needs of menstruators and bring about a change. The ‘Menstruation Benefit Bill’ introduced in 2018 has been largely debated over. It seeks to provide menstruators working in private and public sectors two days of paid menstrual leave every month. But what’s so path-breaking here? How does it represent anything different from the ‘Special Causal Leave’ that allows 2 days off for female students on periods? This bill needs to step out of its comfort zone and cater to menstruators across all industries, professions, and sectors. Doing away with bias and sensibly catering to all representations of collar jobs, irrespective of the luxuries some of them enjoy over the others, would be a step that counts.
Menstruators have broken barriers and started leading workforces. But the companies who refuse to inculcate period leaves are themselves not upgraded to accommodate them.
Everybody deals with pain and discomfort differently. While periods are a cakewalk for some, some struggle. Needless to say, certain medical conditions associated with periods like PMDD, fibroids, pelvic inflammation, just add to the pain. Period pain is something that every menstruator deals with, and as opposed to some sexist stereotypes, they do not exaggerate pain or dramatize it. A period without painful cramps? Doesn’t exist. Dysmenorrhea or painful periods are severe enough to disrupt productivity and interfere with daily tasks.
We require a culture with no humiliation or shame for a menstruator to admit being on their period. Some might say these period leaves would further increase the gender bias and would aggravate unfair treatment. Could period leaves violate menstruators' rights at work? As we’ve seen, absolutely anything can be a pretext for patriarchial oppression. Such toxicity does not need period leaves as a trigger.
There are hundreds of discriminatory practices against menstruators at work that already exist. But, that’s exactly what we need to change. We need to reject and challenge these practices, and demand workplace policies to ensure privacy, dignity, and physical and mental well-being. These aren’t punishments for having a certain biological clock. When we talk about equality at work, it doesn’t include swallowing up the pain and trying to be a good fit. Periods are not a choice that menstruators make each month, so a period leave should be. It’s surprising how men and also women have dismissed the associated discomfort for so long simply because it’s inconvenient or unfamiliar to them.
And let’s get real about ‘period positivity’. What should it really look like? Being period positive is not about loving your periods all the time or being able to do everything all the time while you are bleeding. It is and should be about the acceptance of not wanting to do anything and still not having to feel any less about yourself.
How many times do menstruators have to let go of comments about ‘that time of the month’ because they are cranky, moody, annoyed, or just not in a mood to give a flying damn about anybody?
Another problem with the seemingly ‘progressive’ approach is that it’s not progressive at all. At least not while it internalizes and pressurizes menstruators to behave in an expected ‘strong, independent’ way. What this does is that it ends up condescending the very existence of menstruation in one’s life. Unless we focus on truly intersectional and inclusive aspects, the period positive movement will never really be about ‘all those who menstruate’.
If companies are considering mental health leaves as a strengthening change, why does asking for period leaves culminate into weakness and focus on gender as a social construct? Doesn’t it truly come down to being sensitive and respectful of a menstruator’s health? You might not bleed, but don’t deprive those who do of a choice.
Just like maternity leaves, period leaves also deal with a physiological process unique to each menstruator. Moreover, this is something we encounter every month for a minimum of 40 years. So if not more, it deserves similar attention. With hardships faced by menstruators at the workplace in highlight, there has been a slow and steady realization that menstrual issues cannot be brushed under the carpet.
What we need is more empathy, to not discredit the experience of others. But even more importantly, periods don’t need to be horrible to justify a period leave. Any workplace, no matter how established, cannot be gender-blind. Menstruation cannot be rephrased as a disease. Instead of having menstruators adjust, workplaces need to be transformed to adjust them.
We have all grown up thinking we shouldn’t draw attention to our period. We’re always stuck between denying experiencing symptoms or being pigeonholed. Well, it’s time we embrace our menstrual experiences and try to change how they’re viewed at our workplace.
The world has evolved and menstruators are now confident enough to identify their rights and ask for it. As we all turn towards being comfortable in our skins and raise attention and acknowledgment, the rest will follow.
Written by Nibha Patil
Cover by Khyati Patkar