People who oppose period leaves: Check your internalized misogyny

Skipped meals, popped three painkillers (don’t recommend), almost passed out in public places, mortified to ‘Ask’ for a half-day at work – Welcome to a day in the life of a woman on her worst period day. This woman is me.

While every month my periods are nothing short of a terrifying experience, the rest of the days are spent nervously hoping that my period dates don’t coincide with an important work event or meetings. From feeling dizzy in between meetings to slamming my head down on my work desk post-lunch and just not having the energy to get up and function- guys, none of it is pretty. 

So when I read the headline “Zomato offers 10 day period leaves to their employees”, I naturally squealed like a child out of happiness, or wait, I think it was my uterus!

For someone like me, it was absurd that such a policy was not in place already. To give you some perspective, my previous office had about 8 days of sick leave, and about 7-8 days of casual leave. I spent about 4-5 of those sick leaves on my godforsaken period cramps. I reserved the rest for some other health issues that I chronically suffer from, which meant, I simply couldn’t afford to fall sick besides my already ‘biological’ predispositions, without a loss in pay.

This is why I was nothing short of fuming with fury when I started reading the ‘well-meaning intellectual discussions’ on the Internet about Zomato’s announcement. Imagine people arguing whether or not this period leave policy is a good step in a world where 5 to 10% of women face debilitating period pain, enough to obstruct normal functioning, and dysmenorrhea (severe painful periods) affects more than 80% of women during reproductive age. John Guillebaud from the University of London stated that patients have described the intensity of cramps as equivalent to having a heart attack. Not only this, industries and corporates since time immemorial have conveniently overlooked these grave concerns over productivity and profit. In Tamil Nadu, women working in factories to produce garments for a billion-dollar firm were given ‘Illegal’ drugs to combat period pains so work doesn’t suffer at an obvious and dangerous cost of health risks.

So in light of these above facts, the thing that troubled me the most was that even some womxn thought this was something that was up for debate. 

So, like any objective way of looking at both sides of the story, I read all the ‘For’ & ‘Against’ opinions. 

And I have a lot to say. 

Women, a lot of women, (of course, not all women) feel everything from mild discomfort to pain, nausea, migraines, tender breasts to severe symptoms like debilitating pain that can affect daily routine. This isn’t a choice; it is a biological system that functions like clockwork 12-14 times a year. And not to forget, uncomfortable as hell for many of us.

Just because we are used to it because we had no choice, doesn’t mean it can be overlooked. Nor is it a marker of a woman’s ‘strength’ and pain bearing capacity. It just is, and it needs to be acknowledged as such.

I shall take a moment to appreciate the people who clearly saw the obvious merit in this. People who menstruate and the ones who don’t but have a very basic humane capacity to empathize know the benefit and relief this leave policy offers. The rest, well, they came up with pretty interesting points against period leaves. Interesting because it’s amusing to watch the army of closeted misogynists and pick me womxn jump at the first chance of shaming women for wanting leaves during their periods.

“Women can make use of sick leaves for period problems (because it is unfair to men)”

Indian employees get an average of 15-18 leaves (excluding festivals and paid leaves/privilege leaves). Reality Check – if a woman takes 4-5 leaves per year for her periods (a natural biological process), that means women are getting 10-12 leaves per year for falling ill, for emergencies, for casual breaks. Is this fair? 

Gender equity means that we are able to foster equality based on the unique needs of genders. Men and Women and biologically different. This basic fact must be accounted for while setting down a policy framework. It’s unfair to women, to expect her to be ‘productive’ and ‘useful’ on days when she ‘biologically’ just cannot. E.g periods or pregnancy. 

The most astounding aspect of this debate was that some women are also against the policy. I understand though, through years of conditioning and internalized patriarchy, they have misunderstood the most fundamental grounds of feminism. They still seek male validation, in indirect ways. E.g: I am not like the other girls’, ‘Women are more drama, so I prefer more male friends’. ‘I am not like other women, who can’t brave through period cramps and show up at work, I am better, I am braver.’  While these narratives do get them the approval of their male counterparts, they completely fail to recognize the struggles of their own gender. Such a shame!

Many women, such as a liberal favorite and self-appointed gatekeeper of womxn’s rights, Barkha Dutt, opposed the ‘Period Leave’ citing it will strengthen biological determinism, completely missing the point. Feminism or womxn empowerment doesn’t mean that we overlook the biological differences, it simply means we should be able to provide an inclusive, sensitive level playing field considering our differences.

Statements like “Policies like these will create a bias against women. The next time they are looking to hire an employee, they’ll prefer men” are an automatic assumption that the ‘They’ who take managerial executive decisions are men, right? Because a board of women responsible for hiring sure won’t disregard a capable talented employee because she gets period pains. If the problem is that women may face bias because of their natural gender role then again that is another problem that needs to be looked at. The solution doesn’t lie in “Don’t give women period leaves”. We need to dig deeper and check our internal biases at play or revisit our definitions of equality. Maternity leaves are given because of the biological and emotional needs of a child and mother. If period leaves are unjust, how are maternity leaves okay? Don’t you feel women should just ‘Man Up’ and go to work 3 days after delivery? Women should be strong na? WRONG! Strength has nothing to do with the predispositions of gender.

“Women should get lesser pay than”

Firstly, it is called ‘Paid Leave’ for a reason. If you had to cut her salary, that means she is ‘Paying’ the price for it. Which nullifies the whole concept. Secondly, let’s just say you gave her less pay because she was unproductive for 10 days because of a natural process? So basically we are being ‘punished’ with lesser pay for being a woman? Petty quite honestly. Let’s weigh that against the biases women face at work, the lack of opportunities, and the excessive struggle women go through to get in positions that matter. So when you talk about equality, please focus on this too.

When my journey into learning more about women’s rights started, I often felt feminism means ‘equating men and women’ irrespective of external factors. For instance, women must not get reserved seats on a bus, because men and women are equal. But well, there is history to that. Not too long ago, it wasn’t safe for women to travel (not much has changed though), which is why having a separate section made it easier. Today, discounting this reserved seat discounts the women who have struggled through the decades to give you that right, the right to travel safely. If you still feel unsafe to get into a bus full of men, then we aren’t equal yet ladies. There’s a long way to go. Equity plays a role here too, the need needs to be accounted for.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let the woman have the freedom to decide if she wants to opt for the ‘Period leave’ or not. The choice, however, is essential because of our biological disposition. Women who suffer painless periods, congratulations, please feel free to not opt for these. Managers, please show some faith in women, that they will use their leaves with proper discretion. When you suggest women will ‘misuse’ these leaves, that has nothing to do with being a woman, that’s the character of an individual whether they will or will not misuse these leaves. Does not mean all women don’t deserve leaves. 

We need better menstrual leave policies!

Here’s what countries around the world are doing:

  • Japan has menstrual leave policies since freaking 1947
  • South Korea has been offering menstrual leaves since 2001
  • Indonesia has a two-day menstrual leave policy per month
  • Zambia offers one day off per month for menses

Long story short. It is the power of choice, as it must be. Period.

Divya Uchil

Published by

Divya Uchil

Divya is an aspiring pet parent with a love for all things animals. A 'Food technologist' by educational qualification, Divya quit the 'sounds interesting' job to switch into the world of writing. She loves writing about things that hold the promise of creating a change, educating the reader, and things that stir her soul. Love often finds it's way into her keyboard, but for the most part, she remains fascinated by the human brain, exploring why people are the way they are.

Leave a Reply