Menstrual dilemma

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree writes about the global debate that surrounds menstrual leave

menstrual leave

That ‘women are underprivileged’ seems to be a common viewpoint. While matters like social barriers for women and outlooks toward their contributions have always been topics of discussion and contemplation, their physical incompetence compared to that of men comes up very often- women are less strong!

But the fact that they bleed and pain every month seldom is a discussable topic at a gathering or even in a conversation between two people.

From household chores to professional work, for her family responsibilities as a homemaker and work responsibilities as a professional, women have to go through a tremendous amount of work load, stress; and these take their toll on women. Physical strength to do this amount of work comes second to their mental ability and determination.

Even though these multitasking goddesses keep pulling it off to the mesmerisation of men, something like menstruation which is beyond their control may take over their drive of a multi-tasker, causing unbearable pain and cramps, dizziness and the feeling of being drained from obvious loss of blood.

Some countries think it is a matter of consideration when it comes to work and have offered policies for women to take paid leaves during menstruation. But in the arguments of some opinionated people, women taking leave for a physical condition essentially makes them physically ill or unfit for work, thus putting women second to men.

Japan, being the first country to initiate menstrual leave for working women, has passed a menstrual leave policy in 1947 which offers women with painful periods ‘seirikyuuka’ or ‘psychological leave’. This could be a possible way to deter the tendency of calling menstruating women sick, as providing one to three days off for menstruating women unburdens them more psychologically than physically.

Even so, the number of women using the policy came down to 13 per cent in 1981 from 20 per cent in 1960, a 1986 study shows. The prime reason found behind this decrease was the pressure and discomfort of being frowned upon by the society for using this policy.

South Korea followed the trail of Japan and granted women menstrual leave in 2001. But the issue remains same; men of the country never took it appreciatively, rather thought it to be a reverse discrimination against men.

On the other hand, because of men’s disapproval or related reasons, women never really felt quite comfortable asking for the offered leave. Indonesia and Taiwan also provided women with leave. In case of Indonesia, the policy could never be properly enforced as individual organisations were not abiding by the law sometimes; on top of that, organisations require performing physical examinations on women before granting the leave, obviously making it a less popular option for the women there.

Other than these countries, Zambia too offers the same, some international companies like Nike, Coexist, a few organisations in UK, India and some other places too offer leave for menstruating women.

Although Asian countries were the first ones to start this initiative, whether Bangladeshi working women, a large part of who are mostly uneducated labourers, can be provided with this option is not yet foreseeable to common eyes.

Italy, on the other hand, is the first European country to come forward. After much debate and arguments, the Italian parliament presented a bill introduced in March that would require companies to offer three paid days off to women with severe menstrual cramps.

The debate revolves around the taboo and stigma attached to menstruation and ways to refute those. Some people opined, although providing the leave may be considered as a progressive initiative – representative of modern times, it could very well be indicative of the society going backwards in terms of conceiving women’s abilities, to older times when women used to be forcefully cocooned and not allowed to venture out and carry on with their daily work.

Some also say that this could lead to a decline in the careers of women at this crucial time when women are thriving upwards with their professional prospects. Employers may reconsider or feel unwilling about employing women at their workplace given the certain loss. Women may also miss out on important meetings or sessions, thus being excluded from the decision making process. This, potentially, can be a threat for women who want to climb up the ladder towards governing authority.

All these predicaments and issues are real only in the case of an unsupportive environment that do not encourage or appreciate menstruation leaves.

On the other hand, a better health is a precondition to better work performances. A study conducted in 2016 by Informed Health Online showed that every one woman among ten go through severe menstrual cramps which disrupts their daily life. It may also lead to a disease called ‘endometriosis’ causing severe pelvic pain and even leading to infertility.

With more studies conducted day by day, it has been made clear that menstrual pain is a rather serious medical condition for a large population of women, which should be dealt with care and attention. Since women’s contribution to the workforce certainly cannot be denied, our societies will go backwards in time if we keep giving them lesser opportunities in workforces because of a natural physical condition. Or it will rather be inconsiderate and harmful for half the population if such an issue gets ignored and women are forced to pop painkillers everytime they have to be present at the workplace despite their physical condition.

The choice is of course ours, whether we will prefer healthy workers over millions of arguments.