Last month, a media company in Mumbai announced that it had instituted a “First Day of Period Leave,” which would allow female employees to take a day off on the first day of their menstrual cycle — no questions asked. The company said it hoped to dispel menstruation taboos by acknowledging women’s periods, and launched a petition calling for similar policies to be implemented across the country. Soon a few other companies followed suit.
As of press time, the petition had received more than 31,000 signatures. But some feminists activists are questioning the value of period leave policies. Writing for The Washington Post, Women in the World contributor Barkha Dutt labeled the proposal “paternalistic and silly.”
“First-day period leave” may be dressed up as progressive, but it actually trivializes the feminist agenda for equal opportunity, especially in male-dominated professions,” Dutt writes. “Worse, it reaffirms that there is a biological determinism to the lives of women, a construct that women of my generation have spent years challenging.”
Stigmas against menstruating women are pervasive in India. In some homes, women and girls are not allowed into the kitchen when they are on their period. Muslim women are prohibited from offering certain prayers while they are menstruating. Such stigmas are compounded by hygiene concerns in rural India, where access to sanitary products like tampons and pads are scarce. According to the World Bank, 113 million girls in the country are at risk of dropping out of school due to the onset of their periods.
Dutt argues that period leave policies would only make the situation worse. “Goofy ideas such as period leave create grounds for workplace discrimination or, worse, a denial of some roles completely,” she writes. “Take the fight for the right of women to be allowed into military combat, fly fighter jets or be sent into space. The barriers are high enough already; now we want to add a nonsensical new one?”
Dutt also took part in a Washington Post Facebook conversation with Chella Quint, a comedian and the founder of #PeriodPositive, about how companies and even governments should approach period leave for women employees, and how the culture surrounding menstruation is changing. Watch the full discussion below.
Read the full story at The Washington Post.