Menstruation not a dirty topic, it’s about female right to health


The menstrual health of women is always a concern for the women’s fraternity at international as well as national levels. Every year on March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day, and on May 28th, we celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day. We are happy that we women have succeeded in every sphere of life whether sports, research, astrology, science, piloting, etc. But when the matter relates to claiming the right to menstruation leaves for everyone, we keep silent. As if we were not a part of it. It’s a taboo or dirty topic for some to talk about menstruation openly in front of the public. But it’s not wrong to visit the Hindu temple of Goddess Kamakhya which is one of the 51 Shakti Pithas. Kamakhya is also known as the bleeding goddess. It is believed that the sanctum of the temple, referred to as the “Garbhagriha ‘’ contains the fabled womb and vagina of Mata Shakti. It’s during the month of Ashaad or June of every year from time immemorial, that the goddess from this temple menstruates or bleeds during this time; even the Brahmaputra River undergoes a colour change, turning crimson during this period. The temple is closed for three days, and Kamakhya Devi’s devotees receive the holy water as prasad. One can say or interpret here that it’s a three-day resting period for Mata Shakti. The fact relating to the goddess Kamakhya is known to every Hindu here in India. It is not wrong to talk about Mata Shakti’s bleeding because it relates to our faith and religion. But when discussion needs to be had about menstruation health and menstruation leave for women, it becomes a dirty topic. Mensuration is not a dirty topic, but it’s a topic of discussion regarding the female right to health.
The right to health is an integral part of human life and is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Mensuration is also a part of the health-related to females. Worldwide, menstruation has an impact on girls’ attendance and involvement in education. According to UNESCO research, one in ten females in sub-Saharan Africa skipped school due to their menstruation. Menstruation causes 50% of girls to miss one to four days of school per month in Ethiopia and Kenya; females miss four days of school on average per month, costing them 165 learning days during their four years of high school. According to research conducted by Plan International in the United Kingdom, 13 percent of females aged 14 to 21 miss a whole day of school at least once every month, and 64% of girls aged 14 to 21 miss part or all of the day because of their period. In some countries, teenage girls drop out of school due to menstruation. In India, it is found that up to 1 in 5 girls leave school after receiving their period. Though many international organizations are already working on this issue. Even in one of the studies conducted at University College London, done by Prof. John Guillebaud, it was found that menstrual cramps, that is, pain during menstruation, are almost as bad as a heart attack. Thus, one can understand the pain of the girl or woman who goes through this every month. Though the menstruation cramps may vary from person to person.
Considering all this data and issues related to menstruation in the last few years in India, many times the Mensuration Bill has been placed for discussion, whereby it has been proposed to give leave benefits to girl students and female employees during menstruation. But it has been rejected on various grounds. Recently in February 2023, the Supreme Court Bench, comprising Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachur, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice JB Pardiwala, refused to entertain the PIL filed by Shailendra Mani Tripathi, represented by advocate Vishal Tiwari, seeking a direction to states to frame rules for granting menstrual pain leave for students and working women at workplaces, calling it a policy matter. The bench urged the petitioner to approach the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development Ministry to frame a policy relating to menstruation leave.
Not sure whether the menstruation leaves policy will be framed or not, but it is important to mention here that in our country, in many unorganized sectors, female laborers were forced to choose hysterectomy to work, like in the sugar field industry, so their pregnancy or periods cannot be a ground for leave for them. Even for those who work in the field for them, no basic facilities related to toilets are provided. One can imagine the situation faced by the woman laboring here and the pain that she faced during menstruation and pregnancy, as during those days they are also supposed to do all kinds of heavy work. Although the government has framed many policies for the welfare of women, most of these policies have been implemented in the government sector. Those who are working in the private and unorganized sectors hardly get the benefits of this policy.
Even though we don’t have a menstrual leave policy. But now, some companies in India have already implemented it, like Zomato, which has declared 10-day paid leave each year starting in 2020, followed by Swiggy and Byju. Even Bihar has already given two days of menstruation leave to female employees since 1992. Kerala has also introduced these leave policies for women. Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Zambia are some countries where menstruation leave has been provided to women.
For many, granting menstruation leave to women will force the employer to choose more male employees in comparison to female employees. But one thing which I would like to state here without hurting anyone’s sentiments is that a man can go for a sutta break (break for smoking) at least six times a day during job hours, which may take 5 to 10 minutes for one sutta break, i.e., 60 minutes (1 hour) every day they are spending time for smoking from their job hours. If we calculate it monthly, then the total time taken by them for a sutta break is 26 working days x 1 hour = 26 hours. Thus, a male employee is spending 26 hours monthly for smoking, which is equal to two and a half days of work. But if a woman or girl claims two days of menstruation leave, it will hinder the company’s growth.
Mensuration is not a disease where one has to claim leave for it. But due to other health issues associated with it, one can say that yes, for some, it can be a disease and for others, it may not be. It varies from person to person. For those who are suffering from PCOD, PCOS, etc mensuration is painful as well as in some cases women need to visit the emergency care center of the hospital for mensuration cramps as well as for heavy bleeding. But providing menstruation hygiene to girls’ students and female workers is something that has to be taken care of, especially in the unorganized job sector, by the government and the employer too. Unless we women understand the importance of this leave no one is going to help us.
Dr Pyali Chatterjee is HOD, Faculty of Law at ICFAI University, Raipur Chhattisgarh