The concept of period leave, like the #Metoo movement is not new. What really happens is people talk about it and then forget it, as some other issue gathers momentum. Then an organization or an individual makes a move and the ball gets rolling thus galvanizing the once much talked about (or not) issue. On 8th of August, Zomato announced 10 days period leave for their women and transgender employees, with an aim of introducing an inclusive work culture. As always, there are debates for and against the decision. What’s really noteworthy is how some important women in business have shared their views which has shocked many to say the least. Journalist Barkha Dutt tweeted, “Sorry Zomato, as woke as your decision on #PeriodLeave is, this is exactly what ghettoizes women and strengthens biological determinism. We cannot want to join the infantry, report war, fly fighter jets, go into space, want no exceptionalism and want period leave. PLEASE”.
On the other hand, actress, writer Twinkle Khanna took to Instagram to write, “Period Are we really saying we can’t give women leave or the prospect of working from home for that one day? My opinion of gritting our teeth and bearing it, fighting our biology we can say we are as good as men, has changed over time. We are equal, not identical. #EqualNotidentical”.
Not very long ago, Textile Minster Smriti Irani at a ‘Young Thinkers Conference’ in response to the Sabrimala issue said, “I am nobody to comment on the Supreme Court verdict but I believe I have the right to pray, but not the right to desecrate. Would you take sanitary napkins steeped in menstrual blood and walk into a friend’s home? You could not. And would you think it is respectable to do the same thing when you are walking into the house of God? So that is the difference”. As bizzare as that statement sounds, it is shocking to imagine that an influential person like herself would blatantly make such a comment at a national event attended by young impressionable minds.
As far as my personal opinion goes, this move is welcome in a country where topics such as period and menstruation still remains a huge taboo and the concept of ‘period leave’ is alien to many because of social conditioning and prevalent patriarchy that either refuses to acknowledge the pain that women experience or demonstrate double standards in their behavior while doing so. A study by Chrisler, Gorman et al.( 2011) showed that just being seen with products (e.g., tampons or pads) associated with stigmatized marks or speaking openly about one’s personal interest in a stigmatized matter can shift stigma from the products or the topic to the individual. Kissling (1996) said that, “menstrual taboo is stronger than the taboo of talking about death”.
There are extensive literature that explains how ‘period’ can be a painful time for menstruators (Kissling, 1996). The intensity of the pain and discomfort that women experience differs from individual bodies, but it is a given fact that it is not a smooth time for menstruating individuals. It is important to understand that menstruation and other reproductive processes are stigmatized (Chrisler, 2011). While discussing about women’s bodies, whether or not we realize it, we have an inherent bias and a strong stereotype that guides our thoughts in the conversation. The menses are generally considered disgusting, and any contact with (or even sight of) someone else’s menstrual blood is something to be avoided (Chrisler, 2011). According to Chris Williams, the executive director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, as mentioned in an article titled, ‘Taboo of Menstruation’, published in the New York Times in 2012, said “Girls suffer if they aren’t empowered to manage their menstrual cycle without pain and shame each month”.
Interestingly enough, this change brings forth debates from all sides, with a lot of women (powerful and impactful) opposing this move as they rightly feel that it is going to further restrict their employment opportunities and few others calling this a regressive step. It is no secret that women have had and still have a tough time when it comes to their career as well as work-life balance, even though the condition today may be better than what it was 20 years ago. Many women and menstruating individuals are not in favor of this policy because they are worried (rightly so) that they won’t be hired, promoted, given raise, laid off, excluded and humiliated. What was wrongfully followed before, need not be followed now. The collective mindset needs a complete shift and eventually altered and it must also be understood that while making the workplaces equal for all genders, the concept of equity must be followed too. Our bodies are not identical, and hence our needs are different too. In the garb of ‘workplace equality’, let us not reinforce the very same suppressed, stigmatized and dominant patriarchal culture that leads women and all other menstruating individuals to suffer in silence, struggling to hide their pain and tears, lest they open their mouths jeopardize their careers.
The media plays a huge role in depicting the likeability or not of a particular product (Yagnik, 2014). If the media could genuinely open up and depict the ‘truth’ behind menstruating bodies and experiences, by showing the liquid on the sanitary pad as ‘RED’ and not ‘blue’, by not naming pad as ‘whisper’ (further stigmatization) and TV ads depicting the menstruating individual being shunned by family members or sitting away from male members, it would truly help in bringing about a change in the right direction
Companies that truly want their workplace to be diverse and inclusive in the truest sense of the word need to understand that in today’s time and age, an organization will truly progress if they take these ‘basic’ requirements of their employees into consideration and be a workplace that respects their employee’s needs. For centuries menstruation has been dealt with silence, indifference and neglect. It is more than high time to change that.
Zomato has set an example for the other organizations in more ways than one, and it is time the other organizations follow suit.
Moitrayee Das is currently pursuing her PhD from the School of Management and Labor Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She has also completed her M.Phil from TISS. She holds a Masters in Applied Psychology, with a specialization in Industrial Psychology from University of Mumbai. She has also pursued several Certificate and Diploma courses in Industrial, Marketing and Human Resources Management from Welingkar Institute of Management, Development and Research, Mumbai. Her work has appeared in Deccan Herald, The Telegraph, and HR publications such as People Matters, HR Katha, Business Manager and Human Capital, amongst others.