Period Leave – Justified or Not?
By: DR. S. N. BASU
There is a lot of discussion as to whether women should be given “Period leave” or not.
In reaching a decision fraught with varying and often diametrically opposite views – one must first analyse as to what is the aim of a decision in favour of period leave.
Are these the reasons why women are rooting for period leave?
- Women want open discussion about menstruation.
- Women may feel that period leave is justified because women do not want the stigma attached to menstruation.
- Period leave would get rid of discrimination in the society and workplace.
- Menstruation significantly impacts a woman’s performance in her profession and this would be improved /obviated with period leave.
- Women need rest and therefore it should be considered a medical reason for justifying period leave.
Let us discuss these one by one:
If women want an open discussion about menstruation – leave does not in any way contribute to an improved discussion on the subject. What is more important is to remove the myths about periods and education about the anatomy and physiology of menstruation. Education about hygiene and care of oneself during periods is what is required. Availability of pads freely in the workplace and every place where we think may be required is important. All this requires work on improving health literacy and making it convenient for women to continue with their normal lives with periods being just a normal physiological incident in their lives.
The general thought is stigmatisation of periods is rampant throughout the world and in most religions. However, this is not entirely true.
Many religions do not attach any stigma to it. In fact in Hinduism the first period (Menarche) is celebrated by the family. It is considered an auspicious occasion of coming of age for the girl. In fact Kamakhya Temple, one of the most revered temples of Ma Shakti is proof of the same. Similarly in many other religions also it was considered a positive milestone in a girl’s life.
Then how is it that menstruation became stigmatised? Lack of knowledge and understanding about menstruation probably led to misinterpretation of the older texts. It is difficult to say when the misinterpreted half truths about this physiological process led to stigmatisation.
We agree there should not be any stigma attached to this physiological condition. One should try to understand how such a situation came about.
- People did not understand the physiology of menstruation.
- We all know that when women were only home-makers it was initially thought that since they were bleeding they may feel weak and needed rest.
- Women were also responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the temples and prayer houses and since they were given rest they were also absolved of the duties in the temple. This also led to distortion of facts and women were considered to being unclean.
- One must also remember that in ancient times there was no running water and women bathed in common bathing places. To keep the water sources clean menstruating women bathed separately. This also contributed to the general misconception that menstruating women were unclean.
Thinking that Period leave would get rid of discrimination in society and the workplace is an ill conceived thought process. The stigmatisation is because of the menstruation and not because women go to work. In fact, period leave may just make it more obvious to the whole society and the workplace that a woman is menstruating. This will hardly gain any sympathy or garner any respect. Your very personal intimate issue will be public news amongst the whole staff. Do women really want that sort of a distinction?
Does menstruation significantly impacts a woman’s performance in her profession? Women have worked successfully and reached great heights in their chosen professions despite having regular periods. It is an attitude you have about your periods. Either you learn to manage your periods effectively and well. Leave is not going to improve anything. If one has pain there is medication available and one can consult the doctor. If the pain is unbearable and incapacitating it needs to be investigated and proper treatment taken.
Rani Jansi, Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Clinton did not hide behind the excuse of periods in their profession. How is taking leave going to help any woman in better performance in her workplace?
Getting period leave as a mandatory requirement can lead to disruption at the workplace since it may happen that more than one female may be on her period.
If the periods are actually interfering with your life then look for a solution. Period leave is not the answer to your period woes all the time. Women also have pre-menstrual symptoms – would they need leave for that also?
However, if the woman is really suffering badly from period pains or they are very heavy and it is difficult to go out of the house then they could individually take leave.
Period leave across the board does not seem justified. The periods are different for different women and even for the same women can be different in some months. Any medical problem needs to be tackled appropriately so that a woman is alleviated of her troublesome symptoms.
When young women were asked their opinion – most said – Oh Great! we will have extra leave every month. On the other hand there are the pragmatic hard working women who scoff at the very idea of period leave.
The cons of demanding period leave – employers will be reluctant to employ women if they have to give all kinds of special leave to women.
Period leave cannot be equated with maternity and child rearing leave – here the future of two lives and the upbringing of the future generation is at the stake. They need priority.
A balanced approach is needed in coming to this decision of period leave.
- The writer is Senior Director & Head, Department Of Obstetrics & Gynaecology & Infertility, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi.