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PIL Seeking Menstrual Pain Leave Filed In Supreme Court: Will It Impact Employment Of Women In India?

Menstruation still remains a hush-hush subject in India and even talking about it is considered taboo. This is even further intensified due to its association with cultural and religious norms, and traditional beliefs such as evil spirits, shame, and embarrassment related to sexual reproduction. This happens in an era where we talk about women's empowerment and smashing the patriarchy. But, getting rid of a regressive mindset is a daunting task and won't happen overnight.

Recently, in the top court of India, a public interest litigation (PIL) petition was filed by Advocate Shailendra Mani Tripathi seeking to introduce menstrual pain leave or period leave for female students and working women throughout India. Further, she has urged SC for issuing directions to the State governments to frame rules for menstrual pain leaves.

The same plea seeks directions for the implementation of Section 14 of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which deals with the appointment of inspectors to implement the provisions of the said Act. The petitioner has also mentioned about medical research on how painful the experience of menstruation can be and that not granting menstrual leave will be a complete violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Menstruation Challenges Faced By Women In India

In Indian Vedic text, it has been declared in the Veda that guilt, of killing a brahmana-murder, appears every month as menstrual flow as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra's guilt. Further, in the Hindu faith, women are prohibited from participating in normal life while menstruating, mentions a journal on National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

In 2019, a report was published by the NGO Dasra that said that annually, 23 million girls in India drop out of school due to a lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities. Also, according to the National Health Service (NHS), menstrual cycles may or may not be accompanied by period pains. For some, it can be really painful and feel like intense muscle cramps, while at other times it can be constant or dull. At times, the pain can spread back to the neck and thighs.

When it comes to menstruation, it can be a different experience for everyone. Hiding it from the men in society doesn't reduce the excruciating pain a woman goes through. However, due to social media, the issue is getting addressed finally and many are coming forward to talk about the challenges they are facing while on periods.

Should Women Ask For Menstruation Leave? How Will It Affect Their Employment?

In 2018, Menstruation Benefit Bill or the Women's Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill was introduced in the Parliament seeking mandatory leave of a minimum of 2 days of menstrual leave each month. And yet India is lagging behind when it comes to period sensitivity and awareness.

The petition was introduced by Congress MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor back in 2017. The Bill proposed that public authorities must make the availability of sanitary pads for women free on their premises and also grant leaves to working women in public and private jobs two days of menstrual leave every month.

But, unfortunately in 2022 when the Bill was represented in the Parliament once again on day 1 of the Budget Session, the Legislative Assembly reportedly dismissed it as an 'unclean' topic.

Believe it or not, there are 12 companies in India that offer menstrual leave to women -Swiggy, Culture Machine, Mathrumbi, Magzter, Wet and Dry Industry, ARC, Zomato, iVIPANAN, Gozoop Online Pvt Ltd, Horses Stable News, FlyMyBiz, Byju's. Also, in nations like Italy, United Kingdom, China, Indonesia, Spain, Zambia, Wales, Japan and South Korea, menstrual leave is considered a part of women employees' leave policy.

Despite medical research on how painful the experience can be, not granting menstrual leave is a violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, as per the petitioner. Article 14 is an anti-discrimination clause that states that the state shall not deny equality to any person before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the country.

However, the petition mentioned that "Union Minister Smt. Smriti Irani in a written reply in Lok Sabha said that the "Central Civil Service (Leave) Rules 1972 do not have any provisions for menstrual leave and presently there."

"It is accordingly a violation of Article 14 in as much as this Act differentiates women in the name of federalism and state policies.

During their menstrual cycles, women also experience numerous physiological and health issues and also how they are treated across different states of India varies. The petition also mentioned that having one citizenship i.e., of India, women must be treated equally and conferred with equal rights. Further, the Delhi High Court directed the Centre and Delhi Government to consider PIL seeking menstrual leave as representation said the petitioner.

A 2010 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey that examined attitudes about gender across the globe sheds some light on how public opinion in India compares to the other 21 nations surveyed.

Fully 92% of Indians said that women should have equal rights with men. But when asked specifically which gender should take priority in the workplace during tough times or in higher education, attitudes in India are less supportive of gender equality than in many other countries around the world. (The survey did not include specific questions about sexual harassment or rape.)

The fight for the 'Right To Bleed' is a long one and we are yet to see if there will be any change in organisational policies in companies or firms pan India when it comes to menstruation since it is heavily stereotyped in many places in this country. Also, this will be seen as an inclusive measure and can empower women by giving them a better support structure in workplaces.

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