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FREE TO BLEED: THE NEED FOR A MENSTRUAL LEAVE POLICY IN INDIA

By- Shajal Silas, 5th Year Student at Amity Law School Delhi, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi

 

The recent announcement by Zomato India, launching a policy to grant menstrual leave to its employees, initiated a frenzied debate across the nation, weighing the strengths and shortcomings of such schemes while mulling over the possibility of its uniform introduction across the country.

Menstruation has been the subject of extensive medical research, the same establishing that 30 to 90% of women report suffering from painful menses, whereas 10–20% complain of such severe pain that they are unable to perform their work or they have to miss school. A recent study involving a group of Hungarian working w

omen discovered the existence of a causal link between work-related stress and exacerbation of dysmenorrhea.

Consequently, countries like Japan, Indonesia, Korea, and the Philippines have laws that allow a working woman to take time off during her period if the discomfort and pain are too great to do her job.

A similar approach had been introduced in India in 2017, when digital media startup Culture Machine introduced a monthly leave for the first day of menstruation for its employees, marking the advent of such policies in India. The initiative was furthered by media company Matrubhumi, and companies such as Horses Stable and FlyMyBiz, which instituted similar schemes for their employees. Additionally, the Gender Sensitizing Training for Officers and Staff of National Human Rights Commission-India, organized by the Asia Pacific Forum in collaboration with NHRC, saw participants formulating an action plan for the Commission, which endorsed the provision of menstrual, maternity, and child care leave to be given to all employees without discrimination, including contractual and outsourced staff.

The menstrual leave policy, initially sponsored by private entities, subsequently invited legislative discussion through the Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017, a private member bill introduced in the Lok Sabha by MP Shri Ninong Ering. The Bill, seeking to redress frequent demands across India for further amendment to the Labour Laws to include better working facilities to the female workers employed in the public and private sector, provided detailed clauses aimed at benefitting women and adolescent girls. It envisioned the provision of paid medical leave to working women and leave to girls from school, for two days, on account of menstruation. It also visualized a rest period, as well as menstruation-friendly facilities for women working in the establishment during their menstruation. Moreover, it aimed to entitle women to overtime allowance in instances of not availing the leave. In response, the Ministry of Women and Child Development recently stated there was no proposal to provide for menstrual leave, neither did the ministry plan to pilot legislation on the issue.

The efforts to introduce such policies have been met with both admiration and resistance. They have been questioned repeatedly, in heated discussions involving a plethora of arguments that have advocated against the statutory introduction of medical leave for menstruation. The foremost of these arguments states that such laws will hamper the goal of gender equality (more correctly, equality of the sexes) as envisaged in the Indian Constitution.

In this context, it is meant to reflect on the connotation of the term gender equality, which does not denote that men and women become the same; only that their access to opportunities and life changes is neither depe