Why Period Leave Is a Regressive Idea

Do women really need paid leave to deal with their period pain? A medical check.

3 min read
Why Period Leave Is a Regressive Idea

I know I will win no friends with this piece but I do feel strongly about the issue so here goes: My contrarian view on the whole period day leave debate.

Last week, a Mumbai-based digital media company created waves by granting all its women employees paid leave on the first day of their period. The company has 75 women employees and they said they wanted to be more women friendly.


I noticed that while the policy was hailed as liberating and forward thinking by most of my younger colleagues, among my peer group (women in their 30s) the general reaction was that of irritation and anger.

They felt that women had fought long and hard to establish themselves as equals in the workforce (fact check: we are not – women in India earn 25% less than men according to the Monster Salary Index (MSI) on gender for 2016). And we’ve fought long and hard to ensure menstruation is not treated as a sickness.

As Tina Fey so eloquently puts it:

Indian women make 25 percent less than their male counterparts. 
(Photo Courtesy: Giphy)

Politics of the debate

Let’s do a reality check of where we live.

This is a country where girls are barred from entering the kitchens, temples and in some places, even their homes when they get their period. They are treated as outcasts.

Alternately, in parts of the country the onset of periods is treated as a festival. The girls are ready to pop out babies and the community celebrates.

‘Coming of age’ is one of the TOP reasons for girls dropping out of school. They are women and they no longer need to study.

Imagine the trickle down affect this social media conversation will have? If it’s okay for you to take leave to deal with your period pain, it’s okay to drop out of school, get married early and have babies.

The feminist movement has fought this whole notion tooth and nail. For many of my friends and I this whole conversation is regressive and taking us dangerously backwards.

Medical side of the debate

90 percent of women face some form of discomfort and pain during periods, usually cramps in the tummy that can spread to lower back and thighs. It may come as a dull pain or as painful spasms.

It may occur every time you get your period or it may skip some.

It’s never comfortable.

The pain may last 24 to 48 hours or it may be the most painful when you bleed heavily.

Doctors usually advise taking a painkiller.

Giving up smoking,

mild exercise

and using warm pads and warm showers will help you soldier through.

I advise most girls who come to me with period pain to take an anti-spasmodic and go to work. 5 to 6 percent of women in my opinion have severe pain that reduces once they become sexually active.  
Dr Indu Taneja, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Fortis Escorts

But for a small percentage of women, the pain is real and it’s terrible. Doctors sometimes call this secondary dysmenorrhea. This is usually caused by an underlying medical conditions like endometriosis, pelvic inflammation and uterine fibroids and it mainly affects older women.

Endometriosis is a painful condition in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus, the endometrium, grows outside your uterus.

According to doctors these women require specialised medical care.

Endometriosis is on the rise, especially in metros and is often linked to lifestyle. Instead of taking leave every month what they need to do is visit a specialist to seek treatment!
Dr Monica Wadhawan, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Fortis Hospital 

In my opinion, they fall outside the purview of the debate. And their specific medical needs demand a more sensitised and evolved HR policy.

Will this policy normalise the conversation around menstruation? I doubt it very much. A buzz around a hip digital media company in metropolitan city like Mumbai will remain alive only in a social media space for a while – and will be accessible to the most privileged.

Will this policy give ammo to those who believe women don’t deserve the same pay cheque as their male counterpart? I believe it will.

What you do need is lower taxes on sanitary pads, accessibility of these pads to those who can’t afford them, education of both boys and girls about physiology and a little understanding if someone is having a particularly hard day.

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