MAKE LAWS & POLICY DECLARING MENSTRUAL LEAVE FOR WOMEN

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This international women’s day, I urge you to join me in supporting an important cause – ‘Menstrual Leave For Women’ by all Private and Public Employers, in addition to the sick leave in India. All employed women in India should have an option to take ‘work from home’ or ‘leave with pay’ for two days every month, by private and public employers.

Menstruation is an inescapable natural biological process and yet women in India face discrimination around it through cultural practices, lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, and by having to operate in workplaces which are designed without any sensitivity to women’s special needs.

Art. 42 of the Indian Constitution, which is a Directive Principle of the State Policy, states that ‘the State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief’. In order to encourage more women to join the workforce in India, we need to start a debate across India about ‘ensuring safe and accessible workplaces for women’, ‘equal pay for equal work’ and ‘having work conditions which are in alignment with women’s needs’. Dr. Shashi Tharoor,  MP for Thiruvananthapuram who is also Chairman of AIPC, raised some of these issue by introducing a Private Member’s Bill titled ‘The Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill’ in 2018 with the stated objective –

to emphasise on the agency of a woman in her sexual and reproductive rights and to guarantee menstrual equity for all women by the State.

Menstrual leave for women is one of the several issues that needs to be addressed in order to halt the rapidly declining  female workforce participation rate in India which fell from 36 % in 2005-06 to 24 % in 2015-16. There are several countries which already have provisions for menstrual leave including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan. 

In India, Bihar is the only state which has been providing two days of special leave every month to its female employees since 1992. This allows women to take any two days off without having to provide any justification.

Ninong Ering, a member of Lok Sabha from Arunachal Pradesh, also moved a Private Member's Bill 'The Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017' which had provision for two days of paid menstrual leave for every woman in the public and private sector. However this issue is yet to be taken up effectively by the Parliament.

There are enough medical reports suggesting that PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) reduces occupational productivity and that menstrual cramps can be as painful as heart attacks. As per the Clinical Evidence Handbook published by the BMJ Medical Publishing Group, UK, 20 percent of women suffer from symptoms like cramps, nausea, fever and weakness during their menstruation cycle. As per the estimates of the Endometriosis Society India, over 25 million women suffer from endometriosis, a chronic condition in which the pain is so bad that it could lead to women passing out from it.

While Article 15 (1) of the Indian Constitution prohibits the state from discrimination on grounds on religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth etc., a provision for menstrual leave will be protected by Art. 15 (3) which carves out an exception to Art. 15 (1) by enabling the State to make special provisions for women and children.

To those who argue that providing for menstrual leave will affect economic productivity, well, first, studies indicate that efficiency levels of women are low during menstruation. Also, there is lack of private place at workplace for women to change menstrual materials, leading to the fear of lack of general hygiene during menstruation days. Therefore in order to ensure an equitable workplace culture, India needs to move beyond the old gender equity discourse and move forward in a constructive way. For example, the basis of a longer and more common maternity leave over paternity leave in India is due to the biological differences in men and women. Those who still need to find an excuse for not hiring women, should not be the main consideration when making equitable policy for women. Women go through pain biologically during menstruation and should be allowed to rest without having to suffer economically.

In light of this, I call upon you to sign this petition and express your support for a movement to usher in ‘menstrual flexibility’ in India, which will enable women to take time off during their period and make up the time on other days.

I urge the Parliamentarians to take up this issue and pass a law for menstrual leave for women at all workplaces, making it applicable to the whole of India. 

I also urge all the Employers, Private and Public to introduce this policy at their workplace without waiting for a law on this. This will prove to be an enabler towards gender inclusive workplaces in India.

Wishing you all a very Happy International Women’s day!

Adv. Avani Bansal (Supreme Court) ; Secretary, AIl India Professionals' Congress, Delhi 

PC : Archana Sharma