Menstrual leave, which is already part of the leave policy in several nations like South Korea, Italy and Japan, now appears to be making inroads into India too. Culture Machine, a digital media company in Mumbai has not only legitimised the first day of Period Leave policy but also created a video around the importance of taking the day off on the first day of periods. Gozoop, a digital media company in Mumbai also introduced official menstrual leave policy this year that also allows work-from-home option every month.
Currently, 75 women work with Culture Machine and constitute 35 percent of their team strength. It wants to allow women who suffer from menstrual pain to be permitted to take the day off rather than be uncomfortable and unproductive at work. Culture Machine wants taboos around the natural rhythm of the female body removed. And more importantly, they don’t want women to lie on days they can’t come in.
In an interview with Your Story, Devleena S Majumdar, President – Human Resources with Culture Machine, says, “We have our YouTube channel called Blush that tackles themes related to women’s issues and aims at empowering women. So, it’s only right that we provide the women who work with us with a supportive work environment and considerate policies..I feel that productivity is a state of mind. If our women take a small break and come back refreshed, I am sure it will increase the productivity in the long run.”
A petition on change.org to legitimise menstruation leave by Culture Machine has so far received 22,889 signatures.
“We want an FOP Leave to be made available for women all over India, irrespective of where they work. For this to happen, we implore the women and men to sign this petition so that we can take this message to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and also to the Ministry of Human Resource Development,” it reads.
While Twitter is flooded with tweets appreciating the initiative to remove the stigma around menstruation, many have responded negatively to the move and critiqued it as it may result in a wider wage gap between men and women, misuse of the policy as well as apprehension to hire more women in an already male-dominated corporate environemnt in India.
Given that India has already legitimised a 6-month maternal leave policy, if it were to even consider a menstrual leave law, demand for female employees among companies is most likely to decrease, or women could be further penalised both in terms of salary and career advancement. The logic is simple: If women were granted extra days of paid leave, employers could become more inclined to hire men rather than women.
Corporate India still prefers man on top
These concerns are not unfounded. A whopping 55% of the respondents from India of the Randstad Workmonitor Survey released in June 2017 said men are chosen over women for positions for which both are equally qualified. 61% of the male respondents and 47% of the female respondents feel men are favoured over women even when both are equally qualified for the same job at their workplace. 55% of the overall survey respondents from India echo the same sentiment as opposed to 70% respondents globally. When asked for preference, 70% men from India mentioned that they prefer a male as direct manager and in reality, a vast majority (87%) actually have one currently. The figures deviate among women: Only 41% of the female respondents prefer a male as direct manager and 50% actually have one currently.
In India, 79 percent of adult men are in the workforce against 27 percent of women, making it one of the largest workforce gender gaps in the world.
The pay gap: Men earn 67% more than women in India
The gender pay gap in India is as high as 67 percent as a man on an average earns USD 167 compared with $100 by a woman, according to a report by Accenture Research, which stresses much of this gap is caused by the fact that there are more men than women in high paying functional and leadership roles, in addition to factors such as education levels, industry segment and hours worked.
Nice girls don’t ask for more
Even trends globally suggest that women are unlikely to negotiate for pay raises, as compared to their male counterparts. A Harvard University research shows that men are almost four times more likely than women to negotiate pay as women are viewed unfavourably when they do so. More importantly when women bargain like men, they are often perceived as pushy.
Maternity leave is already a concern for many companies in India:
Take the example of Italy. While it currently offers five months of mandatory paid maternity leave with 80% salary. a report by Italy’s national bureau of statistics, ISTAT, reveals that nearly a quarter of pregnant workers are fired during or right after their pregnancies, even though this is illegal.
In India, too while the government has mandated 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, there are no financial provisions provided for companies to assist them in doing so. While MNCs and large corporates can cope with the change, the small and medium-sized enterprises will face the burden. This is especially true in the case of start-ups who feel they cannot afford the cost of hiring somebody, who may be absent from work for such a long period.
Why should women give employers a chance to use the leave as a basis of bias? Won’t this fortify assumptions that women are unreliable workers? “We know she has tough periods and what if she doesn’t turn up? Why not give the promotion to man, he is guaranteed to not take that time off and put in more hours!”
As Laura Rosewarne,Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne rightly argues in the Conversation “In reminding those around us that we’re different, that we have special needs, female needs – that at certain times of the month we might not be at our labour market best – suddenly we’re outing ourselves as someone who is different, less able, and potentially less desirable as an employee in comparison to that male job applicant who won’t take that day off per month to cry, cuss, and cuddle his hot-water bottle. Assumptions about women’s bodies, about women’s emotional stability, about their strength and capabilities, have long been barriers to many professions and a reminder of fecundity (read: maternity leave). I suspect, therefore, that actively creating policies based on difference – in a climate where true equality still remains a pipe dream – is probably a step in the wrong direction.”
So perhaps more than menstrual leave, companies are better off allowing women to work flexible schedules during their menstrual phase or allowing them to work from home. As far as the HR goes take a second look at the sanitary facilities in the office and install that mandatory sanitary napkin vending machine to start with. And as far as the government goes, how about exempting pads from 12% GST and making it accessible?