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Period Leave: Is the debate necessary?

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Rama Moondra: Indian food delivery giant Zomato on August 8, 2020, announced a new policy on ‘period leaves’. The policy provisioned up to 10 additional leaves for menstruating employees. The company’s intention might have been to reduce the stigma and shame around menstruation, but it soon became a point of debate and discussion on social media.

People went berserk over the topic and it was magnetically debated. Right from arguments on women’s equality to suppression of men’s rights, the critics of the policy denounced it everywhere. In fact, rather than reducing the gap between men and women employees, the discussion on the policy widened it.

For me, the first sight of blood was nostalgia. But, it was neither great nor any fond memories are attached to it. Rather, the first sight of blood was frightening and confusing to me. My grandmother sent me to a small dungeon kind of room for seven days.

The tiny place was meant for an additional servant for staying overnight on rainy days. There was no bed. I had just a silk sheet to cover myself and a woollen blanket to sleep. The food would be kept in clay vessels on the window sill.

I remember crying the entire night with the fear of dying and withering in pain. No other family member was allowed to see my shadow. I was impure and from being a ‘Devi’ with a virgin status, the shift was towards a mortal girl begging for mercy. This was in the 1980s in Kolkata. It is not an ancient story and the same treatment is meted out to young girls in many orthodox communities till date.

No wonder, I loved watching “Prison Break”.

In this entire debate on period leaves, the biggest question is not about women liberation or equality either. It is about the stigma and despises that surround women across India while looking at a normal physiological process as evil.

Also Read: Menstruation is part of life. Period!

Another strange, biased, yet not unfound opinion, that is doing the rounds is that the period leave policy will be misused by women. Many think the same way for pregnancy leaves that women take it for six months and then resign when the time is right for them, no matter what the organisation goes through.

Yatindra Sharma, Managing Director, KHZ Machinery Pvt Limited, thinks that women have no reason to misuse the policy. “In my long career and being an equal opportunity employer, I have not seen any such misuse,” Sharma said.

“Why should women be discriminated for anything at all? My wife is a Thangka painter and she completed her course in Himachal while I looked after the house and business. In her difficult five days, I would be around to talk to her always,” founder of LegalWiz Shrijay Sheth said.

Will availing leave on the pretext of period drag us back to colonial times? Don’t people fall sick or take leaves anyways other than usual sick leaves?

Our world is inherently gendered and the repercussions are faced by both men and women equally. Both genders need to take corrective steps to fight this oddly embarrassing yet fully natural symptom of being a woman.

(The author is a visiting faculty of IIMs and a master mentor with Centre’s Startup India Initiative)

 

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