Women working in an office (representational image) | Commons
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No consensus yet on menstrual leave; 4 organisations which introduced this have received lukewarm response from their employees.

New Delhi: A private member’s bill introduced in Parliament earlier this month proposed to grant women workers two days of menstrual leave in a month. But going by the experience of a handful of companies that already have period leave, India doesn’t seem to be ready for it yet.

Last year, Mumbai-based Culture Machine, a digital media firm, became the first organisation in India to have introduced the first day of period (FOP) leave for their women staff.

ThePrint has learnt that only four organisations in the country have implemented this leave so far. Besides, Bihar is the only state where government employees can avail two days of leave a month for ‘biological reasons’.

However, there apparently is no consensus on the issue. Even an online petition launched by Culture Machine has not reached its target of 35,000 supporters in the past six months although the company said that it has received support for the policy from its staff and other organisations are following suit.

“One of the biggest media houses, Mathrubhumi, followed by a couple of other companies implemented the policy,” Devleena S. Majumder, chief of staff at Culture Machine, told ThePrint.

“Most recently Reliance Mutual Funds approached us for details on the policy in order to implement the same in their organisation,” Majumder added.

‘Blush’ video on period leave

 

Lukewarm response from employees

Although Culture Machine did not share any productivity metrics of the company as an impact of the policy, it said that only 8 per cent of the women staff have availed the leave policy so far.

For instance, Apurva Gabhe, who was part of Culture Machine’s team that handles the ‘Blush’ lifestyle channel until December, said that she had availed the leave only once.

“It’s not a reason for chutti,” she said.

“Everybody goes through varying intensity of pain and most of us are used to bearing it on a regular day. It was an understood thing that you only used it for genuine reasons,” Gabhe added.

Ditipriya Ghosh, an HR professional in the development sector, isn’t surprised that majority of women are not availing this leave just as yet.

“We’re already facing a big backlash because of the increase in maternity leave,” she said.

“My friends will not say as much to me because I work in a women’s rights organisation but I can sense a silent embargo on recruiting women,” Ghosh added.

A new HR policy

As the first and only newsroom in India to offer one-day period leave to its staff, Mathrubhumi News doesn’t see the policy acting as a deterrent for hiring women, said Gopalakrishnan H., manager HR & administration.

“Women generally have been found to avail leave, either casual or medical leave, during their periods even before this special leave was announced on 19 July 2017,” he added.

With women comprising 30 per cent of the editorial workforce the decision is only a means to recognise the physical trauma endured by women during their menstrual periods, he said.

The response in the newsroom was, however, mixed.

“While some called it a great step, there were others who thought of it as an extra leave for us to ‘enjoy’,” an employee from the organisation said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

While period leave was a top-down decision in these companies, the policy came into force at Amnesty International India, a human rights organisation, on popular demand.

“This leave is not encashable, cannot be carried forward to the next month, and lapses every month if not availed,” said Naveena Ambatipudi, manager, HR and administration, at the Bengaluru-headquartered non-profit.

While Amnesty doesn’t have any formal assessment as yet, Naveena said they have informally received positive feedback.

Gozoop, another Mumbai-based start-up that has a FOP leave policy, did not respond to questions emailed by ThePrint.

Consensus still divided

Some women’s rights activists have been critical of the policy considering other aspects of women’s welfare like gender parity, menstrual health and hygiene are still neglected.

“The government should instead focus on addressing a long standing demand to reduce the Goods and Services Tax on sanitary napkins and invest in menstrual hygiene and health,” Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, said in an interview.

However, Bengaluru-based menstrual health activist Urmila Chanam says a piecemeal approach to women’s rights does not work. Over the years, Chanam has taken her campaign on menstrual awareness ‘Break the Silence’ to 10 states, including Assam and Manipur.

“Menstrual hygiene is not just about health but gender equality. By prioritising one over the other, we are delaying justice,” she told ThePrint.

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