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UPSC Sansad TV: The Global Debate- Paid Menstrual Leave





Spain becomes the first European nation to approve a law granting paid menstrual leave. Similar policies are in effect in countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan and Zambia.

Rationale for the mandatory menstrual leaves:

  • Menstrual leave is a type of leave where a woman may have the option to take paid or unpaid leave from her employment if she is menstruating and is unable to go to work because of this
  • The support for period leave rests on a sound rights-based argument — that workplaces need to accommodate for biological differences between co-workers.
  • Period leave allows women to rightfully rest during their menstrual cycle.
  • It is well-documented that women experience a wide range of health complications during their monthly cycle — cramps, back and muscle pains, bloating, headaches, nausea, among others.
  • These symptoms can assume greater severity for women suffering from chronic conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.
  • While the experience of a period is different for different women, and certainly differs month-to-month for the same woman.
  • Period leave is thought to be a means to legitimise the physical toll of a painful monthly cycle, to be taken if required, a means to create equity at the workplace.
  • It is also cited as a way of normalising conversations around menstruation.

Challenges in granting the mandatory menstrual leaves:

  • To achieve the stated objectives, we cannot ignore the economics of a period leave. We need to be clear where the funding for menstrual leaves comes from.
  • If menstrual leave is structured like maternity leave, it threatens to increase the cost of hiring women. This has implications in the long-run.
  • Teamlease Services found that 1.1-1.8 million women lost their jobs in 2018-19 across 10 major sectors owing to the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2016 which doubled paid maternity leave from three to six months.
  • Similarly, there are other costs associated with hiring women that lead to unsaid but rampant discrimination.
  • It is well-known that many employers in India are hesitant to hire women for jobs that require frequent travel as they need to make special arrangements for their safety.
  • Essentially, society’s failure to keep women reasonably safe leads to a public cost internalised by employers as a private cost. Paid period leave can further exacerbate this situation.
  • Even if this by itself does not keep women out of jobs, it can lead to discrimination in hiring and promotion and raise the barriers for women to enter and climb the corporate ladder.
  • It also creates grounds for companies to offer lower in-hand salaries to women, justifying it on the basis that the cost to company for women and men should be equal.
  • About 55% of urban working women were in regular, salaried employment in 2018-19. Of these, 71% had no written job contract, 51% were not eligible for paid leave, and 53% were not eligible for any social security benefit.
  • Period leave will not touch the lives of millions of casual women workers in the informal economy in both urban and rural areas.
  • By increasing the costs of hiring women, we, in fact, risk keeping them out of the workforce.

Way forward:

  • A good solution might be to increase the number of paid sick leaves by law for both men and women, but keeping it equal.
  • While it increases the overall cost of doing business in India, it treats men and women at par.
  • Paid sick leaves can be viewed as a form of social security.
  • In industries where remote working has proven to be effective, employers can be encouraged to institute work-from-home policies that allow employees to work remotely for a fixed number of days in a month.
  • This flexibility will ensure that women can work from the comfort of their home, in case they find it inconvenient to travel or work from office during their period.
  • Menstruation Benefits Bill is imperative to look at the significance of the provisions, for a gender sensitive labour policy.
  • Menstrual leave policies must be introduced alongside measures to increase workforce participation of women.
  • Efforts at making workplaces more inclusive and gender sensitive is essential. Separate toilets for men and women with facilities for disposal of sanitary napkins should be ensured.