Smriti Irani, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, made headlines on Wednesday, December 13, by expressing her disagreement with the idea of 'paid menstruation leave'. She emphasised that menstruation, in her view, should not be regarded as a "handicap," hence should not warrant a "paid leave policy."
In response to a query from Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) member Manoj Kumar Jha regarding menstrual hygiene policy, Irani shared her perspective, stating, "As someone who experiences menstruation, I don't see it as a handicap; it's a natural part of a woman’s life journey…Proposals should not be made that deny women equal opportunities simply because someone who doesn't experience menstruation has a particular viewpoint towards it."
However, this isn't the first instance where the concept of menstrual leave has been met with opposition in India.
When Supreme Court rejected plea for Menstrual Pain Leave policy
The Supreme Court, on February 24, dismissed a PIL advocating for menstrual pain leave, emphasising that the issue holds a policy dimension and rested on the Central government's responsibility for implementation.
Advocate Shailendra Mani Tripathi, who initiated the petition, expressed optimism for the court's intervention. Tripathi highlighted the urgency to address societal taboos surrounding menstruation, stating, "This is not solely a women's issue but a societal concern that needs immediate resolution."
This isn't the first instance this issue reached the courts. Back in 2020, the Delhi High Court directed the Central and Delhi governments to deliberate on a plea for paid menstrual leave, encompassing government employees, including daily wage and contractual workers.
However, despite these directives, little or no substantial progress has been observed at the Central level in instituting a nationwide framework for paid menstrual leave.
Recently, responding to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in the Lok Sabha, Irani clarified the government's stance, indicating that mandating paid menstrual leave across all workplaces isn't under consideration.
In a written statement submitted in the upper house, Irani acknowledged the existence of severe dysmenorrhea among a minority of women and girls, stating that most cases can be managed with medication.
So, what exactly is dysmenorrhea?
As per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, dysmenorrhea, commonly known as period pain, is widespread. Over half of menstruating women endure pain lasting one or two days monthly. For some, this pain becomes excruciating, hindering them from engaging in regular activities for several days.
Countries and Indian states that offer menstrual leave
Amidst India's stance against paid menstrual leave, various countries and even certain Indian states advocate for it.
Spain took a groundbreaking step on February 16, 2023, becoming the first European nation to implement a paid menstrual leave law. This law grants working women enduring painful periods the entitlement to three days of paid menstrual leave, extendable up to five days.
Back in 1947, Japan was among the pioneers, introducing menstrual leave as an industrial right. Similar policies exist in Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Zambia.
A few Indian states too implemented such policies. Bihar's government began providing two days of menstrual leave per month for women in the workforce as far back as 1992. Kerala took a step on January 19, 2023, by issuing an order for menstrual leave in all state-run higher education institutions.
Additionally, Ninong Ering, a Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, introduced the Menstrual Benefits Bill in 2017, proposing two days of menstrual leave monthly for both public and private employees at the national level. However, the bill is yet to be passed. Despite reintroduction in 2022 during the Budget Session of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, it remained unconsidered, as per a report by Barand Bench.
Indian companies that offer paid menstrual leave
Swiggy: The online food delivery company grants two days of monthly time off to its female food delivery partners.
Zomato: Established in 2008, this Gurugram-based company, with over 5,000 employees, began allowing its female workforce to take 10 days of paid leave annually during their menstrual cycle to ensure continued work consistency.
Byju's: Byju's offers its female employees up to 12 Period Leaves (PELs) annually. Women can choose to take a day off every month or opt for two half-day leaves, as outlined in Byju's blog.
Gozoop: In 2017, this firm became the first private company in India to introduce period leave.
Horses Stable News: This Bengaluru-based startup, comprising 60% women and 40% men, allows its female employees two days of paid leave during menstruation. Additionally, it provides a Rs 250 allowance to help alleviate stress during this period, calling it 'Nay to Yay.'
Culture Machine: In 2017, this firm too introduced period leave in India.
Mathrumbi: The Malayalam media organisation Mathrubhumi permits its women employees to take the first day of their menstrual cycle off. This decision was inspired by Culture Machine's policy.
Wet and Dry: A New Delhi-based feminine hygiene products maker, Wet & Dry Personal Care, offers its women employees two days off during their menstrual cycles.
Magzter: In July 2017, this Chennai-based digital magazine platform announced one day of paid leave per month during the first or second day of their female employees' periods.
IndustryARC: This Hyderabad-based market research and strategic consulting startup enables its women employees to take one or two days of paid leave during their menstruation. However, they must later compensate for the leave by completing pending work.
iVIPANAN: In a move to combat stigma around menstruation, this Surat-based digital marketing company initiated a policy providing 12 days of period leave per year to its women employees, following Zomato's lead in 2020.