Menstruation at the Workplace: Demand for Recognition

The challenges faced by menstruating women are among the least discussed problems in workspaces and in public spaces. Often there is an uncomfortable smile among people whenever this issue gets talked about. Menstrual cramps are painful that affect many women before and during a menstrual period. Typically the cramping pain starts in the lower abdomen one to two days before menstrual bleeding begins. It then peaks after 24 hours and may last for a further two to three days after that. Some women can also experience nausea, an upset stomach or dizziness, as well as pain in their lower back and thighs

Menstruating Worker in Garment workplace

While in pain, the woman worker continues in a workspace, which has the following characteristics:

  • No provision of sanitary pads, and if her bleeding starts while at workplace, she has to go around asking for the same from colleagues and superiors.
  • Even if she gets one, the toilets are in poor condition. There is no disposal system. And often adjacent to the men’s toilet, where men often smoke. And toilets often do not have water supply.
  • Even if toilets are usable the rest hour is minimal. She would not be able to go to toilet at will at anytime.
  • Further, she will have no time to rest, more than the prescribed duration, which are the lunch hour and an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Even if they manage to take rest, there is no rest room separately for women
  • Often, she is forced to take help from the supervisor and have some painkillers. This would have side effects and affect her health.
  • To avoid this, if she wants to take half a day off, she has to get the leave approved by three levels in the hierarchy of supervisors, which itself would take more than half an hour.
  • Instead, if she thinks of not going to work at all, she does not have any paid leave.
  • A leave means she loses the wage for the day. Further, a leave means she also loses the incentive of almost Rs 1000/- that company pays for a leave-free month.

For example, Ms. Selvakani, a garment worker says,

Wage details of Selvakani Rate per day Days worked Monthly wage
Selvakani’s wage for January 2020 Rs 250 26 days Rs 6,500
Salary including incentive (@Rs 1000) for not taking a day off in a month Rs 7,500
Selvakani taking a day off due to menstrual pain Rs 250 25 days Rs 6,250
Total loss in Monthly wage     Rs 1,250

Good Practices on Menstruating Women Friendly Workspace

There are some, not all companies that are arranging the following:

  1. Toilet that has appropriate disposal systems for menstrual hygiene products. They have a regular supply of water
  2. Toilets are clean, and separated from men’s toilets. And smoking is strictly prohibited in toilets.
  3. Sanitary pads made available in the first-aid kit. In some companies, sanitary pad vending machines are available, where one can buy sanitary napkins
  4. Companies deny painkillers and advise against it. If still demanded, they provide the same after informing them of the name of medicine and their side-effects. They also suggest them to take leave instead.
  5. There is separate rest room for women.

However, there seem to be no companies, which have the following provisions:

  1. Menstrual leave of at least one day every month. Menstrual leave is leave with pay. If not, then granting leave without pay for one day, but still providing the no-absence incentive. (That is, if Selvakani gets at least Rs 1000 as incentive even after taking one day off, she will still consider taking rest at home.)
  2. Extended rest hour and unlimited access to toilets during menstruation days.

Further, there are certain other challenges such as these below:

  • In many mills, supervisors are males, so it becomes awkward and difficult for women employees to talk to the supervisor about their problems. Even if supervisors were female, they are often say, “are we not managing? Are you different from us?”
  • When the worker brings a sanitary napkin from home and women’s bags are checked by male security at the entrance, there is discomfort among the woman as well as the security guard when they see the napkin.
  • If menstruating women try to take a break or rest by sitting on the floor, they are asked to work because the CCTV camera spots them.

Menstruation leave practices:

  • Countries like South Korea and Japan have these provisions.
  • Recently certain Indian companies have granted menstruation leave every month.
  • Incidentally, the Government of Bihar, since 1992, have guidelines which states, “All women staff is eligible to avail two days of special leave every month because of biological reason. This is in addition to all the other eligible leaves.” This is available only for government employees in Bihar.
  • Recently, there is a Menstruation Benefit Bill, that has been introduced in the Parliament, which has provision for menstrual leave.

In principle, there is generally acceptance to the provision of menstrual leave of at least one day every month. However, there were following four arguments:

First, there will be men who would do the following; first resist, and then joke and stigmatise. However, the company can still make the implementation rigorous and deal with such men strongly.

Second, there could possibly be resistance from women, who do not want to be stigmatised. Some even say that they should be treated at par with men and do not want any special provision.

Third, this might increase the overall cost of ‘hiring woman workers’. The company might reduce the overall wage rate for women or they start hiring fewer women.

Finally, at a time when a mill is not even ready to give any kind of paid leave, there is little possibility that they would grant menstruation leave.

Our recommendations

The Government should make it mandatory through law for a provision of menstruation leave. This would make the company realise that this is non-negotiable. However, our experience says, this law, even when made, will never get implemented in the garment mills and other such factories.

Until then, the companies should follow the above good practices.

– Inputs from Rajeshwari, Arokyaraj, Beneta Mary, Bhuvaneswari and Meena

Published by post2015voices

Voice For Change is an attempt by Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices to bring together voices from the margins of development debates across the world, especially in the context of the future of the Millennium Development Goals. It is a space for voices from civil society to come and merge with voices from the marginalised to build the momentum for inclusive change.

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