To support ‘Period Leave’ or not is the question

If organisations are not looking at only ungender practices, but a gendered perspective then it is a step in the right direction. To normalise the feminine perspective is what we expect from workplace

Representative Image 
Representative Image

Smita Singh

On Saturday, Zomato, an online restaurant guide and food ordering platform, announced ‘Period Leave’ for its female employees. Zomato Founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal said in a blog post, “At Zomato, we want to foster a culture of trust, truth and acceptance. Starting today, all women (including transgender people) at Zomato can avail up to 10 days of period leaves in a year,”

On Sunday, a day after Zomato’s announcement, a Surat based digital marketing firm iVIPANNAN announced a 12 day annual Period Leave that its women employees can avail. This made perfect sense as eight out of its nine employees are women.

You might ask what the issue is then.

Well, a senior journalist on Twitter posted saying,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.”

This, in a way hurtled a debate on whether Period Leave should or shouldn’t be given, and the topic took centre stage on social media platforms. I have been reading all posts and I want to bring forth all point of views.

I know many of my female relatives and friends who may be part of the 5% to 10% of women suffering from menstruation pain so severe so as to disrupt their life. I have seen them popping 3-4 painkillers and using hot water bags, with some even fainting and puking. In almost 40% of women, menstruation pain is accompanied by premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, tender breasts, swollen stomach, lack of concentration, mood swings, clumsiness and tiredness. This needs to be highlighted because then the need for ‘Period Leave’ makes sense.

Argument against Period Leave

I understand what the journalist is trying to say. Men might go “this is why you are not equal”, while companies can say “this is why we don’t hire women.” While that might be true, isn’t this the very mind-set that we have to fight?

I would like to point out to the fact that a workplace environment and rules are written according to men’s needs and so that has become the status quo and the standard to measure up to. Isn’t this what we are fighting for, an equitable workplace environment that is not hostile to a woman’s needs, and dealing with a crippling biological process that happens every month to some women being one of them? There is a definite need to restructure the present workplace environment and make it more inclusive.

One of the main argument against paid period leave is that it will harm the cause of ‘equal pay for equal work’, according to this thought when women have fought hard for equal pay for equal work this will be a setback. Well, I would like to say that menstruation is a biological constraint for women just like all the other constraints she faces when she steps out, and to make the playing field level, as women are pitted against men, this kind of leave is a step just like the one to increase women representation in the political field we are asking for women’s quota.

One more argument against period leave is that it paints women as weak who cannot bear pain for a couple of days. Let’s not be the one to put down other women by telling our family members, peers, friends, and colleagues that they are overacting during their periods just because you have never experienced acute pain like them? This is a very lame argument

Lastly, I would like to add what the journalist goes on to tweet, “The other thing hideous about the idea of Period Leave is how it turns a normal biological experience into some sort of monumental event, gendering us at the work place when we have fought so hard to not be gendered.” To this, I want to say these days we are holding workshops, Zoom meetings, writing about being open about menstruation so as to sensitise everyone about periods and all that a woman goes through, so how does it matter if people i.e. your family members, colleagues, friends know that you are undergoing a bodily process? Nobody is asking to make an announcement; you just need to take that leave quietly.

Why Period Leave is the way forward

So, once we open up about periods then what? The next logical step should be to do something about it isn’t it. So isn’t Period Leave the next logical step?

We might want to join the infantry, report war, fly fighter jets, go into space, want no ‘exceptionalism’ and want period leave as the journalist says yet we are women with a body that is biologically different than a man’s. We have a uterus that bleeds once a month and with it some women have to bear excruciating pain and all the above or some symptoms. I am lucky I never had to but I do know how incapacitating these few days can be. In such a scenario girls and women have been calling in sick, now if some companies are taking that into account and giving additional leave then what’s the harm I don’t understand.

Let’s get this record straight shall we, we cannot be like men because we do not possess a biological body of a man. We women have been fighting for equality alright, but with all our natural bodily requirements and processes intact which includes pregnancy, motherhood, and periods. We cannot and should not pretend to be a man because we are not. We want equality on the terms of our bodily requirement.

The silver lining

After going through all viewpoints, a heartening and remarkable thing was that a father was supporting the cause of Period Leave because he has seen his daughter suffer and a man supporting it because he has seen his women colleagues taking sick leave.

And the silver lining is that companies and corporate offices are incorporating feminine values over masculine ones of the past. If organisations are not looking at only ungender practices, but a gendered perspective then it is a step in the right direction. To normalise the feminine perspective is what the future expects of our workplaces. So, kudos to Zomato and iVIPANNAN, you are leading the way!

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