The period leave debate is back, and it really shouldn't be
Taking a day off because you’re in pain doesn’t make someone weak or anti-feminist
In 2017, a YouTube video by Blush took the internet and my office my storm. It talked about Culture Machine’s new period leave policy. Of course, everyone from young working professionals, doctors, feminist activists to next-door neighbour Pramod had an opinion.
The concept of a designated day that women could take off from work when they were in too much pain because of menstrual cramps blew many minds. Food delivery company Zomato recently announced a policy of offering women up to 10 days of period leave in a year, triggering the whole debate once again.
It stirred up a lot. Including moans from certain quarters asking why women got special treatment and extra leave days from the office.
There’s praise from some women for a step towards de-stigmatising and recognising painful menstrual disorders like dysmenorrhea and endometriosis.
— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) August 29, 2018
It’s also getting the same criticism that Culture Machine did from another group of women that feel that it’s creating a divide between male and female workers, making the latter seem like the weaker sex requiring a special day off. The argument: When there are already issues of inequality in terms of workplace treatment, growth and pay, why add this tokenism that can be counterproductive to the feminist movement?
The difference in women’s reception to this news seems to be generational. There’s an older group that fought hard to be taken seriously as women in the workplace, who find this infantilising. They seem to feel that the mollycoddling of women over a natural biological process is furthering the gender divide.
The loudest voice of note among them, perhaps, is that of journalist Barkha Dutt. She took to Twitter to voice her opinion, even publishing an op-ed back in 2017 in The Washington Post calling it a “stupid idea”.
You can be a feminist who can handle pain and also be one while you take period leave
To an extent, her argument has merit. Women have overcome monumental odds to demand equal treatment. Their qualifications, intellect and ability to work were often questioned, based purely on their biological makeup. It’s women like Dutt whose hard work even allows me the freedom to write this opinion.
But we’ve also come quite a way since then.
We can demand equal pay and treatment, but also expect workplace policies that are inclusive, understanding of medical issues and supportive of their staff, even if it’s just one more day of leave.
One woman’s ability to manage period pain by popping a pill shouldn’t diminish another’s struggle, especially now that medical research has identified just how debilitating conditions like endometriosis can be.
But what about the working men?
Some argue that it’s unfair for men to have more working days compared to women, and they should have some kind of compensation as well. Well, I say, you’re a man who isn’t having painful period cramps. That really is compensation enough. We can trade places happily. Women with period pain so severe that they need to take a day off aren’t spending the day watching films and eating bhajjias, but most likely bent over a toilet puking our guts out or curled up in bed with an ache so bad you can’t straighten your back.
— MeekiEndo (@EndoMeeki) August 9, 2020
Is it a perfect policy that will not be misused? Of course not, any kind of HR allowance can be misused. It’s up to companies and experts to create well-rounded and comprehensive policies that are beneficial for all employees. Period leave is a privilege, and like all privileges, needs to be enjoyed responsibly.
An additional day of leave for someone who is in debilitating pain is really not something we should be battling over. I’ve watched a colleague faint in the middle of a shoot and later throw up because of period cramps.
I consider myself lucky that all I need is Meftal to get through my day.