The Menstruation Benefits Bill, tabled as a private member bill in the Parliament this Winter Session, seeks to provide women working in the public and private sectors two days of paid menstrual leave every month. The benefits are also extended to female students of Class VIII and above in government recognised schools. The Bill also seeks to provide better facilities for rest at the workplace during menstruation.
We took up this critical issue after long and wide-ranging consultations from people in Arunachal East - the constituency which one of the authors represents in the Lok Sabha. We arranged for a few interactions with students from Delhi University, RGU, etc. on the draft of Bill. We got positive responses from most people, especially girls and women. Therefore, we decided to go ahead and introduce the proposed legislation. The Bill intends to provide relief to women who are troubled during menstrual periods and have no special facilities for rest on such days.
It should be noted that the Bill is not path-breaking. In our own country, the state of Bihar has had special leave for women for two days since 1992 (although it is not explicitly referred to as the menstruation leave). A teacher working at a high school in Lakhisarai, Bihar, Dr Prabhawati, told us, “Special leave is like a boon for women employees as it helps us in balancing our health issues with our work responsibilities. When I joined in 1994 as a teacher, some male colleagues made fun of this special leave. But now, it has been normalised. I think male colleagues have also become more sensitive and do not mock us anymore. However, I am not sure how these leaves will be seen in the private sector as I do not have exposure to their working style.”
The reasons why this Bill should be pushed further are clear. There have been frequent demands across India to amend labour laws in order to provide better working facilities to female employees. The menstrual leave movement has gained momentum across the nation and there has been an intense demand to entitle women with paid leave during menstruation. Besides, there have been demands to provide intermediate breaks during menstruation on working days and facilities for rest at the workplace in India.
A lot of women, media, and civil society organisations have begun addressing the difficulties associated with menstruation and demanding paid menstrual leave. The success of several campaigns and petitions launched for menstrual leave indicates that the movement is fast gaining momentum.
The history of paid menstrual leave goes back to a period as early as World War II. Countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan have been far-sighted regarding the issue and are providing female employees with menstrual leave as an entitlement. Italy has also proposed a Bill on paid menstrual leave. Historically, Indian societies have been marked by vibrant liberalism. A girls’ school in Kerala had granted its students menstrual leave as early as 1912. This financial year, a couple of companies in India have individually introduced the policy of paid menstrual leaves for their female employees.
According to a research University College London published earlier this year, period pain can be as “bad as having a heart attack”. Given the biological complexity of women and the intense pain they have to suffer, they should have the right to avail leave during menstruation. In addition, most women face a hard time, especially on the first and second days of the menstruation cycle due to obvious discomforts. Thus, from both the perspectives of the female employees as well as the employers, menstrual leave is desirable.
One of the authors of this article had put up a question on menstrual leave to the Ministry of Women and Child Development which replied stating, “There is no such proposal for grant of any menstrual leave or introduction of any legislation in this regard.”
This being a private member's Bill, the chances of it being passed are less. However, the idea behind introducing it is to have a discussion and debate on this issue. Therefore, Parliament should take up the issue of menstrual leave in the next session and hold a deep discussion on it.
A criticism of the proposal deals with isolation or exclusion of women due to such a policy. However, if one looks at Bihar, one will find that this problem has been overcome in the state. Are women not working there today? Have they felt any discomfort? We must try to open our mind and have a positive view on the Bill. Until and unless men are not sensitive to the issues of women, these mindsets will persist forever.
As a society, we need to further the debate and discuss issues related to menstruation in an attempt to ensure equality for women. Even if this Bill is not passed, at least we can bring about a discussion on the issue in the Parliament. Let the lawmakers decide what will be the best solution to this problem. Bihar has already shown us the way!
Ninong Ering is a Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha representing Arunachal East and Abhishek Ranjan is a Policy Analyst working with Ering.
Updated Date: Jan 10, 2018 17:04 PM