The Delhi High Court took notice on Monday of the issue of paid menstrual leave, instructing both the Union Government and Delhi state government to offer a decision.
A Delhi High Court bench consisting of Chief Justice D. N. Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan did dispose of the initial public interest litigation (PIL) on the same. However, they did ask “the Centre and the AAP government to treat as a representation a PIL seeking grant of paid leave to women employees during menstruation” as reported by The Press Trust of India (PTI).
The PTI report outlined that “the bench disposed of the Delhi Labour Union plea that women be provided special casual or paid leave as menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity and by not providing separate toilet facilities or breaks to maintain hygiene, the authorities are depriving the employees of their human dignity.” However, it also “asked the central and Delhi governments to take a decision on the representation in accordance with the law, rules, regulations and policy applicable to such matters as soon as possible and practicable.”
Paid menstrual leave is a policy The Guardian queried in 2018 as being “a workplace reform to finally banish the period taboo?” Rose George wrote in that article that “whether menstrual leave is the answer is unclear, but at least it puts periods and period pain on the political agenda.”
The stigma surrounding menstruation in India is very real. Dr Supriya Garikipati told me in an interview last year that “women in India face steep challenges when it comes to their menstrual health and hygiene. Foremost among these is a supreme lack of awareness.
“In fact, in the menstrual value chain, creating awareness on menstrual issues is the very first identifiable role for public policy: bursting the social myths that regard menses as “impure”, and creating a gender equitable culture where these issues can be freely discussed…women in India are effectively denied an environment where they can discuss menstrual issues with peers and elders. The singular policy focus on disposable pads also effectively denies women the right to informed choice. These awareness issues are exacerbated when combined with lack of access to the range of menstrual products and lack of access to right WASH and disposal facilities.”
To return to paid menstrual leave, in 2017, Health Issues India published commentary on that exact issue. “Paid menstrual leave is gaining popularity among companies in India,” we wrote at the time. “However, debate continues over whether it is a progressive or regressive policy.” We went on to note
“The idea of paid menstrual leave is controversial, if well-intentioned. It is already on offer for female workers in a number of Asian countries such as Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as regions of China…In those countries, however, paid menstrual leave for female employees has often been a mixed bag at best.
“Many women in Japan, for example, do not take their menstrual leave for various reasons. These include privacy concerns. As one Japanese woman points out, “you’re basically broadcasting to the entire office which days of the month you have your period.” Other reasons include fear of sexual harassment, discrimination and stigmatisation in the workplace. A particularly invasive realisation of these concerns in Indonesia has witnessed some female employees being asked to remove their trousers to prove their need for menstrual leave.”
That destigmatising menstrual health is on the cards via the overtures of the Delhi High Court is undoubtedly a positive. Paid menstrual leave may or may not be the solution, however.