Is Logic Behind Period Leave Truly Pro-Women?

Sucheta Dasgupta weighs out the pros and cons of seeing periods as debilitating, and questions idea of period leave.

4 min read
Hindi Female

After websites Culture Machine and Gozoop in 2017, Kolkata digital marketing firm FlyMyBiz, has become the third in the private sector to grant a day’s ‘period leave’ to women staffers.

Since 1992, the Bihar government has had a similar leave in place, of two days. And in the last winter session, the Indian parliament rejected Congress Lok Sabha MP from Arunachal Pradesh Ninong Ering’s private member’s Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017, also proposing two days of leave, as female industry leaders and influencers felt that such legislation would deter organisations from hiring women; justify lower pay and withholding of promotions.

At close to 27 percent, India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) has steadily declined (from 34.8 percent in 1990). India’s wage gap is among the worst in the world.

Period Leave Across the World

Worldwide, the concept of menstrual leave has been gaining traction, with Japan (since 1947), Indonesia (1948, though poorly enforced), Taiwan (2013), South Korea (2001), Zambia (1990s) and some provinces of China all offering this benefit.

The Italian parliament is debating a law. The Victorian Women’s Trust in Australia adopted this practice last month, sparking a copycat petition in Egypt, by women’s groups. Nike (since 2007) and CoExist, a British community interest firm (since 2016), have this leave.

In November 2018, the National Commission for Women proposed a policy to combat gender bias at workplaces. Consideration bias is an important component of the negative discrimination women face at work when their competence or desire for growth and responsibilities is overruled, citing false (if overtly well-meaning) regard for their supposedly greater familial roles and so-called physical inabilities.


A Tough Period – Every Month

Though third wave difference feminists insist that the template of the modern worker is based on the male body and should be expanded to include women, and use this argument to support women’s right to maternity leave, are these two ideas comparable? How debilitating are menstrual periods for women?

Studies show more than half of the female population worldwide suffer some form of cramps or pain during their menses at some point in their lives.

However, a small section of scholars, like Robyn Stein DeLuca, for example, see it as an urban legend, a psychosomatic condition that exacerbates the natural tightness and sensation sent out by the uterus when it is ready to shed its tissue. Depression as a result of cognitive dissonance and pressures exerted by patriarchal social realities drives this experience.


Is the Female Body Ready For Strenuous Work During Periods?

Feminist anthropologist Emily Martin in her study, The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction, 1987, points out that studies “showed the debilitating effects of menstruation” coincided with post-war periods in history when “women were displaced from many of the paid jobs they had taken on” when men were deployed at war.

Commenting on the explosion of studies in the 1980s on premenstrual syndrome (PMS), Martin saw a “conjunction between periods of our recent history when women’s participation in the labour force was seen as a threat, and, simultaneously, menstruation was seen as a liability”.

Doctors hold that conditions such as endometriosis and dysmenorrhea aside, during periods, the body is actually geared for the most high-intensity work.

This is due to change in the estrogen-progesterone balance, and increased secretion of androgens in small amounts, including testosterone. Athletes are advised to exercise more during the start of their cycle up to ovulation, to gain greater stamina and muscle mass.


Why You Should Exercise While On Your Period

I have hiked mountains alone while in Mauritius and Nepal while on my period. Once when close to the summit, the flow began, and I had no choice but to forge ahead to the top and then descend and make my way home, taking care not to sit while in the bus during the last leg of my journey.

What many women including myself have noticed is that period pains disappear as one brings in activity and fitness into their lives. Exercise is still taboo for women in some homes, for others it is difficult to find time.

But once one has been through a regimen for some years, the effects last for good. Sportswomen, including marathoners, have been known to set world records while on their period. Cleaners never complain of them, and it is not wholly due to the compulsion to earn, as they do negotiate their leaves and holidays. But outside of paying lip service to the blue collar worker’s problems, does the left-lib feminist brigade recognise their lived realities, let alone take account of their voices on such matters?


Letting Go of Western Stereotypes

Academic feminism in India is trapped in a language of Western epistemology, posits Professor Madhavi Menon, while arguing for the recent #MeToo movement in India to develop in conceptual rather than legal directions.

Yet, our feminists and media continue to borrow memes and regressive notions from the Western cosmos.

This includes copycat debates on women’s ability to drive, do math, navigate and PMS—issues that were absent from Indian society until 20 years ago, for all its systemic misogyny. They solidify existing wrong premises and reinforce the western stereotype that women are useless and irrational, when menstruating, or in general.

But such conversations have been typically falling through the gap between left-liberal populism and right-wing status quo. The questions to ask, therefore, are these: is empowering some women coming at the cost of disempowering others?

In striving to garner respect for traditional women’s work equal to the most challenging, physically demanding and difficult jobs done by men, undermining the goal of equality, and pushing of boundaries by classical feminists?

A housewife is still the most credible woman in Indian families. Is excellence being compromised for moral mediocrity? Doubts lurk as to the rationale and intent behind menstrual leaves.

(Sucheta Dasgupta is a journalist and published short story writer. Until recently, she used to work with ‘India Legal’. She tweets at @phaedrus73. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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