Women are biologically different from men. Period!

It is time India Inc. became more sensitive to its women employees.

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Women are great at multitasking they say. Accepted. Isn’t that why they excel as homemakers as well as successful professionals? They have a better capacity to withstand pain. Quite true. Isn’t that why they manage to survive childbirth? Thank god for maternity leave. After all, childbirth is like a second life for the mother. But guess what, some women endure pain similar to that of childbirth almost every month. Yes. It is true. For some women, ‘that time of the month’ is a nightmare that leaves them totally incapacitated and doubled up in pain. Yet, they soldier on through it all, embracing pain killers. But are workplaces sensitive enough to realise that?

Those in leadership roles cannot even dream of taking the day off in between important projects and amidst the tension of deadlines. Not because they fear the project may collapse in their absence, but because this pain is not a one-off occurrence. It will come every month and sap them of their energy and render them weak and lifeless. It is something that women employees have to accept and simply be grateful that it isn’t a daily occurrence. That is how they have been taught to deal with it.

But isn’t it time that the corporate world became more sensitive to women during those days?

With the trailblazing film Padman, Akshay Kumar managed to make a majority of the Indian population accept menstruation as a normal bodily function, and not as a disease or something that rendered women impure. The same people who found it awkward to sit through an ad for sanitary napkins now talk openly about it with a straight face. And what is more, a Netflix documentary film on menstruation, Period. End of sentence won an Oscar this year. When the world has sat up and taken note of the low-cost sanitary pad making machines being used by a remote Indian village, why isn’t India Inc. making life easier for its women professionals?

While the topic of menstruation is no longer the taboo that it was a few decades back, it remains to be mostly held against women, even by the educated corporate world. Why else is ‘menstrual leave’ still not a standard practice in the Indian corporate world?

Two years back, in an attempt to be more inclusive, the Supreme Court of India installed sanitary napkin vending machines on its premises. It set a great example. But how many organisations followed suit?

While there are fancy toilets for women in most swanky offices of today, a sanitary napkin vending machine is not such a common sight. Aren’t these as indispensable as the hand driers in the loos? A woman who does not have to worry about ‘accidents’ or bother to step out of office for an emergency purchase of a pack of pads will be more at ease and definitely more productive and focussed at work.

‘Menstrual leave’ is yet to be implemented in India, while women in some countries, such as Japan and Korea have enjoyed days off during their period for years now. Japanese women have enjoyed paid leave for menstruation since 1947, while Korean women have had the privilege since 2001.

Why is it so difficult to pass a legislation to this effect in India? Ninong Ering, an Indian politician who represents Arunachal East in the Lok Sabha, once moved The Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017. This Private Member’s Bill proposed that women professionals, whether in the public or private sector, should be allowed to avail two days of paid menstrual leave every month. The Bill also proposed that all workplaces should have adequate facilities for women to rest while they are on their period. While Ering was lauded for his thoughtful proposal, the Bill has not made any headway since it was mooted a year back.

But then the corporate world in India does not have to wait for any legislation to be passed in this regard, does it? If organisations out there really care about inclusiveness and empowerment of their women staff, it is high time they accepted that women are biologically different.

Surprisingly, not many of us are aware that the Bihar Government has been offering two days of menstrual leave to women staff ever since 1992!

Mumbai-based digital media company, Culture Machine did not wait for any Bill or legislation. It just went ahead and announced the ‘first day of period’ (FoP) leave policy for its women staff. Needless to say, its women employees reacted with much exultation and their reactions were recorded in a video that made headlines. Yet another Mumbai-based brand reputation management company, GoZoop has had a menstrual leave policy in place for some time now. And the best part is that it never made a big deal about it, which is how it should be. Taking a paid day off on the first day of period should be as normal as taking a day off for Holi or Diwali, except that this leave is monthly and not annual. If inclusiveness is an integral part of a company’s policy and the well-being of the workforce is top priority, why should a day off for rest by a woman on her period be treated as anything out of the ordinary? Nike put in place a policy to this effect over a decade ago.

A ‘period policy’ for working women should definitely be made a standard practice in the country, and a pad vending machine should be accepted as a normal fixture in the ladies’ loos.

The fact that the suggestion for the Menstruation Benefit Bill was tabled by a man from the North East of India speaks volumes. Not surprisingly, the northeastern states always do better in terms of sex ratio, women’s health and women’s education.

When we as a country are progressive enough to want more of our women to join the workforce, why cannot we ensure that they get the rest and relaxation they deserve during their difficult times? Yes, rather difficult, because research suggests that a significant number of women suffer cramps, fever, nausea and extreme discomfort during menstruation. Quite a few feel depressed and out of focus too. So, imagine the toll it would take on them when they try to get work done at the workplace despite their physical state?

And is it really necessary for women employees to prove themselves at the cost of such pain and suffering?

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