Almost 17 countries in the world have implemented or are considering the implementation of paid menstrual leave. In Japan, the policy was introduced in 1947. Yet the stigma around menstruation discourages women from availing it as it would require informing their managers, most of whom are male. In 2020, Zomato introduced a paid menstrual leave policy which sparked a debate around the subject in India.
At the outset it must be acknowledged that menstrual leave is a class specific notion. It only applies to women who hold white collar jobs. Women working in informal and unorganised sectors, who receive wages on a daily basis, cannot afford a day off. Period leave policy, being blind to intersectionality, is discriminatory and hence fundamentally unfeminist.
But for the sake of argument, let us proceed further.
In the present capitalist work culture, efficiency and productivity are hallowed values. In such an ethos, women having the option to take off for a few days every month would be considered a liability. Employees might adopt covert sexism during recruitment by absorbing more males along with a few token female candidates. Even today, a majority of work environments espouse sexist discrimination in promotion, salary and allocation of assignments. Women have to work twice as hard and yet have claim only to substandard entitlements. The presence of a menstrual leave policy will only accentuate the rift. ‘The moment we gender our leave policies, we gender our assignments’, says journalist Barkha Dutt in a discussion with The Hindu.
With feminist activism and discourse converging towards gender equal workspaces, the notion of menstrual leave sits on the polar opposite. Introducing a gendered leave policy to the workplace runs against workspace parity. When a similar argument challenged maternity leave, the emphasis turned towards an inclusive ‘parental leave’ which extended to parents irrespective of gender. For obvious reasons, menstruation cannot be accorded the same flexibility. It is also important to note that every woman’s period experience differs. A menstrual leave would force a woman undergoing only mild or no pain to take an unnecessary day off. Moreover, doesn’t it affirm a stereotype that menstruating women are weak and inefficient?
The fundamental problem does lie in the nature of our workspaces. Our ultimate aim should be to create inclusive and diverse offices that do not discriminate against differences in body functions. Just as workspaces and work culture incorporate disabled friendly architecture and facilities, they must be genial to the unique necessities of women as well. Unless that is achieved, facilitating menstrual leave will only be detrimental and counterintuitive to feminist purpose of gender equality.