Menstruation, not handicap.

Women want equality, but also menstrual leaves? Ironic eh?

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Indian Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani made some statements regarding paid leaves for menstruating individuals in the Rajya Sabha very recently.

When a male member of parliament brought up the issue, questioning the provisions made to mandate paid menstrual leaves by employers for female employees, she retaliated with,

"As a menstruating woman, menstruation and the menstruation cycle is not a handicap, it’s a natural part of women’s life journey… We should not propose issues where women are denied equal opportunities just because somebody who does not menstruate has a particular viewpoint towards menstruation."


“A small proportion of women/ girls suffer from severe dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) or similar complaints and most of these cases are manageable by medication.”

Complaints? Ma’am, it’s not a child’s tantrums we’re talking about here. Anyway, a draft introduced by the Indian government in October, Menstrual Hygiene Policy, talked about “provisions like flexible working arrangements, such as work from home or support leave, to accommodate the specific needs of individuals during menstruation. It is important to emphasize that such arrangements should be available to all, to prevent perpetuating stigmas or assumptions about productivity based on menstrual cycles.”

Now, given the entire context, which is hard to gather because this was an entire back-and-forth, the points that can be collected from this debate are as follows: Mandating leaves for periods further perpetuates the ongoing stigmas around menstruation. Having to give leave to women will negatively affect many employers’ interest in hiring women. Women can take medications in case their periods are painful. So dedicated leaves for menstruation are offensive(?) to women and their capabilities.

The Wrongs:

  1. Menstruation isn’t a handicap, but women are not super women who can work despite being a hormonal mess and still be expected to provide results.
  2. The medications she talks about have side effects that women have to deal with through increased symptoms and decreased productivity.
  3. It is unequal but we need more gender equity than equality for the country to truly progress.

The Elephant In The Room:

She has a point. I myself have gone down the rabbit hole of questioning whether women should even work jobs when their bodies don’t support it most of the time. But then I successfully found the correct answer to that question. Yes, they should. Women will have periods every month. Women will get pregnant after marriage. Women will need paid leaves every time they’re pregnant irrespective of the fact that they’re not contributing to the company’s profits for a good 3–6 months. Talking strictly through the capitalistic lens, it is unfair to expect employers to hire women knowing they’ll run a loss a lot of times. But not preferring them will affect the natality rate of the country so that is something the governments of the respective countries should consider. I’ll stick to the topic and address the period issue today.

This should have been an opportunity for the parliament to consider a bigger, more crucial question: How can the corporate workplace be more “woman” friendly? Not just slapping certain leaves or slapping the discussion of certain leaves to every woman’s issue as and when they arise, but rather looking at the bigger picture so the issue is nipped in the bud. Let’s face the truth.

The typical 9–6 work schedule is synced with the male hormonal cycle. Women, since the feminist movement, have just fit themselves in, fighting against all odds to get to do everything they are capable of. The system was never meant for us. I think it is high time the government addressed that and contributed to women beyond just appealing to their vote banks.

Let’s compare a male v/s female monthly hormonal cycle:

Men operate on a 24 hour hormonal cycle whereas women, a 28 day hormonal cycle. While men are at their peak for a good 6–9 hours every day, women don’t operate the same way every day all month. There are days they simply cannot cope with their hormones and to expect them to work, a corporate job, for 9 hours, during those days and also meet targets because “oh you wanted equality, here, have equality” is UNFAIR. Women have a lot to contribute to a lot of jobs, in fact, a lot of jobs exist simply because women are now working. So removing them from workspaces or making them adjust to the schedule made and catered for men are both equally unjust. We need a system that can include women in ways women can operate best. A system made for women.

Some Ideas:

Not qualified to say this, but maybe giving women monthly targets instead of daily and as long as they can meet their targets, they can avail of their paid period leaves. It has to be regulated to maintain equality and discipline in the premises but it is still worth a shot. Job roles and industries that cannot afford to set predefined monthly targets can adopt other measures. There could be a provision for interested women to work half days on holidays or overtime when their cycle cooperates and accordingly, they can take leaves during periods. This way her cycle is respected and the company can still earn profits. Working a half day for 4 extra days could amount to a guilt-free 2-day leave. Work-from-home, which was mentioned in the draft, is also a brilliant solution. Or a half-day payment instead of a full paid leave. Or have a separate women’s team for women-dominated roles in the workplace so targets can be met while also catering to their gender-specific issues. And anyway in private corporations, even if we mandate period leaves, it is still up to the bosses to decide who gets promotions, bonuses etc. If an ambitious woman, who has a manageable cycle, doesn’t take her period leaves, she can work her way up. Feel free to criticize my theories because I desperately need more insight on this, but my limited knowledge came up with these alternatives for women who need it.

As a lot of the comments mentioned, as a business owner, only profits matter. If, as a result of hiring women I end up having more liabilities than profits, I am bound to prefer hiring men. But there is no doubt that women are more qualified and adept for certain job roles and we cannot move forward without them. So instead of criticizing women for being women and still wanting to work without feeling like death 2–3 days every month, how about we sit down and listen? Truly, in a solution-oriented manner, LISTEN.



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