Unfit to work?

Companies in India begin offering paid menstrual leave, but experts warn such measures could hurt women more than help

(Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

Some private companies in India have begun offering women paid menstrual leave, a development that many experts are warning might end up hurting women more than it helps.

Akanksha Seda, an employee at Culture Machine, a digital media company, said she was on her way to work recently when she was hit by “the 18-wheeler truckload of cramps.” Normally, Seda said, she would have taken as many painkillers as she could and tried her best to survive the day. To even mention that she was having her period to her male boss, she added, would be considered taboo by most Indians. But this month the company had begun its “menstrual leave policy,” which gave women leave to take days off for painful periods without losing pay, sick days, or vacation time. So Seda called her boss, explained the situation, and went home to recover. In the end, she said, it really wasn’t a big deal.

Not all women agree on that point, however. While menstrual leave is recognized in a few countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Zambia, experts warn that employers could use menstrual leave to justify passing women over for promotions, offering women lower wages, or even gendered hiring biases.

“It suggests women are uniquely handicapped in the workplace by the fact that they have periods,” explained National Women’s Law Center vice president for workplace justice Emily Martin.

Studies have indicated that one in five women may suffer periods so painful that the symptoms interfere with their normal daily activities. But according to Martin, to grant all women menstrual leave would buy into a stereotype that has existed for millennia — namely that menstruation renders women unfit to work, period.

“It’s because of this history that I’m wary of returning to an argument that all females are crippled by menstruation — which is what menstrual leave implies to me,” said Carla Pascoe, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

But from Seda’s perspective, the real controversy is that so many people consider granting menstrual leave a problem.

“If the world had no men, if there were only women working, nobody would have been up in arms about a ‘first day of period’ leave,” Seda said.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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