A Collaboration between Mansi Upadhyay, Purvai Parma Shivam, Kushagra, presenting two sides
“How many men, do you think, can deal with the severest form of pain, which literally feels like a knife being stabbed and turned and then released and then turned and then released and you gotta do that and get up and keep going to work.”
If you are a woman and you are reading this, you would agree with me that no words could have described the menstruation cramps better than the above-mentioned elucidation given by Michelle Obama. And if you are man, read that description again and let it sink in.
The current debate in India regarding Period Leave started when Zomato announced a ten-day leave per year for their female employees. Many women for it and many against, a twitter war ensues, dividing feminists. The major backlash was thrown at Barkha Dutta when she pointed out that this seemingly progressive move strengthened ‘biological determinism’.
While growing up, I read and watched an unhealthy dose of romcoms and M&Bs. All of them seemed to have one thing in common – being in pain was a part of being a woman but yet it was something to be cherished. On the first day of periods, the first time a woman has [heterosexual] sex, she is supposed to go through pain. Is this the truth or something which patriarchy perpetuates so as to fit a woman in a box of ‘loving, caring, nurturing’ because she suffers and undergoes such pains? The majority of the articles, if not all, written on period leave are lived experiences of the women and while they shouldn’t be discounted, we also need to look at some biological facts.
I seem to be rather privileged in the sense that I don’t experience any pain while menstruating but my cousin sister who suffers from menorrhagia, can’t move on her first day let alone do any work. One day while she was crying in pain even after a heavy dose of painkillers, her mother told her “aaurat ho, itna to bardast karna padega” (You are a woman, you have to go through such pain). I became really riled up, wondering why does one has through go through such pain just because of their biological sex? Which is when I consulted two gynaecologists and read up extensively on why my cousin’s and my experience was so vastly different. Only then I came to know that severe pain, excessive bleeding, vomiting, faint spells are not normal but rather different disorders. One will experience such symptoms only when they are suffering from PCOS, PCOD, Menorrhagia, Endometriosis, etc. One gynaecologist, a man, told me that if you’re having severe pain, you’re a ‘more fertile woman’ which has no evidence in medical science whatsoever.
Zomato’s women-friendly period leaves and policies have triggered the discussion of menstruation leaves for women in India. The otherwise “Shush!” subject, is now being discussed on large scales, inviting debates from opposing ends. While many have swung their support to the policy, others marched forward with their arguments of ‘Pain is Normal’ and ‘Pain is a part of being a woman’. Many women themselves believe that the policy will further deepen the gender gap, induce lesser pay and slower promotions. So, what do I think about it? As coincidental it might sound, I was on my 1st day of menstruation, tugged under rugs with my hot water bottle and not even able to get up because of the cramps, when I first heard the news of the period leave policy and exclaimed “Long Overdue”. Thinking of days ahead when I will be able to rest during my cramps rather than running around in the office or otherwise is immensely calming.
We need to stop defining ‘our strengths’ within patriarchal constructs and STOP EQUATING PAIN AS AN INTRINSIC COMPONENT OF BEING A WOMAN. Sex and periods shouldn't be painful and we should stop normalizing that they will be.
Period Leave would just give an additional argument to the anti-feminists, misogynistic people to break down the argument of “Equal Pay for Equal Work”. The argument would go somewhat like this, ‘Men don’t take period leave and work more than women then why should there be equal pay?’. If period leave isn’t made a thing then what about all those women who fainted and vomited during their periods, should they be forced to work? To which a simple answer exists – these conditions need to be identified as the basis for paid medical leave and should be given to everyone (since it’s not just women who menstruate) who requires it. An additional argument to the period leave which came from a female employer was “what if she is faking it?”, we all need to understand that a period leave is not a privilege that can be exploited it is a necessity that all menstruating beings require.
While some may say that Zomato and other companies who give period leaves to their female employees is a progressive move and normalizes a taboo topic such as period, it feels more like a tokenistic move when one deeply assess its merits. The first significant problem is that ten days in a whole year aren’t sufficient if one is suffering from such severe period pains as even though the pain is less on the last days, it doesn’t reduce on the second or third day. Providing leave only on the first day seems senseless if it isn’t going to provide for the second when the pain is just as severe if not more. Secondly, the entire narrative leaves trans people out of the picture and is something to be provided only to the ‘female’ workers. It could be solved easily if it were recognized as a severe medical ailment and was something for which paid medical leave should be given. This would not only ensure that people who need it get it but would be truly inclusive.
Yes, I agree that the policy might backfire, we might just take the path of fuelling the stigma and taboos, related to period, even more than before. But doing something is better than doing nothing. We can’t let menstruation serve as a barrier of our equality anymore, period leaves are our physical need and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. And since it’s our bodily need, we women should not be made subject to workplace hindrances through ‘justifiable lower salaries and hiring bias against women’. We are women and we menstruate. Menstruation is a part of us, NOT SUFFERING PAIN.
The conversation has started to happen, people have begun to say PERIODS openly, without shame, while this may be a good thing, we also need to ensure that the tokenism and this openness needs to lead to a positive change, that has to start soon, it has been long enough.