Time to acknowledge women’s constructive roles, enact supportive policies


All talk about women’s empowerment revolves around a culture that appears ready to recognize how defenceless and dehumanised women are. This vivid desire to improve women’s well-being quickly becomes the topic of conversation. Every industry is eager and yearns to contribute in some way to alleviate the precarious situation of women.
According to Frost & Sullivan’s Global Mega Trends to 2030 research, women worldwide controlled more than $43 trillion in consumer purchasing in 2020. With a female labour force participation rate in India of about 25%, there are more potential customers for the industry. It can be seen that in a household, the woman is the decisive factor for maximum shopping. Starting from household-related items such as groceries, furniture, children’s products, kitchenware and other luxury and electronic items to automobiles and properties, are all chosen and finalized by the females in the family.
In these circumstances, the market looks into the feelings of women to broaden its appeal. There has been an increase in advertisements for beauty products that emphasizes how vital it is for women to feel powerful and confident since they are equal to men and therefore have to look attractive. We often see advertisements for clothing companies encouraging new mothers to embrace the changes to their bodies and wear whatever makes them feel beautiful on the inside as these are the modern women of our age. We can see discounts on cars for female customers urging women to take control of their own lives. We come across several kitchen and electrical equipment that advertise themselves by highlighting how working women’s lives can be greatly simplified by using their items, among other things. The market is incredibly mindful of its female customers. It seems to delve into every emotion of a modern woman who aspires to grow in their social status, being independent and economically empowered.
Even the public sector strives to support the female population as much as possible through its different gender-focused initiatives. We can see different policies aiming to encourage and support women’s education, entrepreneurship, health, job opportunities and so on. After all, the number of female voters is growing sharply and this needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the same business entity and welfare schemes that endorse women’s feelings to boost sales or uplift women’s societal position disagrees with menstruation leave.
Every month the uterus sheds its lining. The process is accompanied by heavy bleeding and muscular cramps. Pain associated with menstruation is called dysmenorrhea. More than half of women who menstruate have some pain for one to two days each month. Usually, the pain is mild. But for some women, the pain is so severe that it keeps them from doing their normal activities for a few days a month. With the growing cases of PCOD and PCOS in almost every fifth woman, the intensity of pain has also magnified. These muscular cramps are discomforting and threatening at times along with heavy bleeding. Diarrhoea, nausea and mood swings also become common during those days. It becomes difficult for females to even carry on their day-to-day activities. Painkillers come to the rescue, but again they can be consumed only to a limit. Under such circumstances, resting is the best solution to avoid this discomfort.
Most workplaces seem nonchalant on this issue and are unhappy with the menstrual leave proposal. This topic itself is a taboo among males and females too. Some counter the proposal on menstrual leave saying, why should everyone come to know when a female is bleeding? This leave makes it so obvious, as if it is a matter of shame to have a menstrual cycle. For some, the efficient production factor is paramount, so they think why sympathize with this issue? Two days to three days’ leave means a loss to production (read loss of profit).
And of course, there is always the feminist angle of equality, where it is the job of women to keep on proving that she is equal to their male counterparts, despite going through mental and physical trauma every month.
Recently, some positive moves were taken in this direction. Spain became the first European country to grant three to five days’ leave during periods. In the historic case of S.L. Bhagwati vs Union of India, the Supreme Court of India argued in favour of women receiving menstrual leave to take care of their health and families. Since 1992, women should have had this fundamental right, but so many companies still do not provide it. The government of Bihar has granted women, and employees, two days of paid period leave, during which time they are free to choose any day of the month for a day off without providing a reason. On 19 January, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced on social media that the state government will grant menstrual leave for female students in all state universities under the Department of Higher Education. The New Pension Scheme Employees’ Federation of Rajasthan has demanded paid menstrual leave for female employees.
In fact, it is initiatives like these that are enabling women to contribute to society. When we as individuals, along with the market, start acknowledging women’s constructive roles by enacting supportive policies, rather than seeing them as consumers, the actual meaning of feminism will remain coherent.
Trishna Sarkar is Assistant Professor (Department of Economics) at University of Delhi.