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  • Sanchali Das

MENSTRUATION POLICY IN INDIA

Sanchali Das,

Dibrugarh University

INTRODUCTION

As generations progress, day to day, women’s contribution towards society in every front of life is no longer below the borderline, but rather equal to men’s contribution. From the medical field to courtrooms, from banking sectors to schools, again from the defence field to the airline department, and even in sports women have fought to be seen as equals.

According to a report by the United Nations published in 1980[i]– “Women constitute half of the world population, perform nearly two-thirds of work hours, receive one-tenth of the world income and own less than hundred percent of world’s property.” 

A similar view can be found in the case of Madhu Krishnan vs State of Bihar2, where the Hon’ble Supreme Court has observed women constituting half of the Indian Population. In the World where half of the workforce is constituted by women, the work productivity rate of a country is equally driven by the women workforce.  

But as there is a biological distinction between a woman’s physical body from a man’s physical body, there are substantial differences in the functionality of the female body than that of a male body. Women being able to bear a child, menstruates which is a part of the reproductive system which prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy. To contribute to the country’s economy and a better work productivity rate there is a need for a healthy and hygienic work environment and awareness among the girls regarding proper menstruation hygiene and to provide leave during the menstruation periods is a matter of utmost consideration. We shall now look into the policy related to menstruation in India.

INDIAN CONTEXT REGARDING MENSTRUATION POLICY:

Some of the Various Government Schemes are mentioned below- 

  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has introduced a scheme for the promotion of menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls in the age group of 10-19 years in rural India, which mainly focuses on creating awareness among adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene, increasing the access and use of sanitary napkins, safe disposal of sanitary napkins in an environment-friendly manner. 

  • As per the MSG decision in 2012, the scheme is to be extended in all districts by making provisions in state PIP through the NHM fund. In 2014 -15 and 2015-16, only a few states proposed the budget for decentralized procurement of sanitary napkins. From 20162017, the states have been requested to roll out the scheme in all districts and proposed the budget for the same in their State Program Implementation Plan (PIP). The States may start by covering 25% of rural adolescent girls in all districts of the State in the initial phase. Later on, depending on the uptake of sanitary napkins, the State may consider increasing the beneficiary population in subsequent years.[ii]

  • The Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram program (under the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health Scheme) also created momentum by increasing awareness of and access to sanitary pads.

In 2011, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued menstrual hygiene management guidelines; additional directions were issued by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2015. In 2012, the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, a flagship sanitation program that included MHH as an integral aspect of its agenda was launched. Simultaneously, other similar programs under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan began, including some geared toward promoting the installation of sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators for safe and hygienic disposal. These initiatives have increased India’s menstrual product usage from 15 percent of menstruating women in 2010 to 57 percent in 2015–16, and further to 78 percent in 2019–21.[iii]

WHAT IS MENSTRUAL LEAVE?

Menstrual Leave is the leave where a woman may have the option to take leave from their employment or students may take leave from their colleges or universities during their menstrual cycle or periods.

The Need for Menstruation Leave Policy- 

Let us come to the question of why menstrual leave is needed:

Apart from proper hygiene and awareness regarding menstruation schemes, the row over leave for menstruation is a matter of age-old debate. Countries like Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, and -Zambia, formally have recognized the menstruation leave policy for their women workforce, in the year 2023 Spain has also joined the club, the first country among the European nations. 

The Industrial and Labor Law provides provisions for women in all sections like equal remunerations, leave for miscarriage, illness arising out of pregnancy, delivery, premature birth, etc. Under the Factories Act, 1948 proper sanitation, latrines, and urinals were also provided, except leave on account of menstruation is not regulated. Also, the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act of 1950 regulate the employment of women for certain period before and after the child birth and to provide maternity benefits, but provisions related to menstruation are nowhere to be found.

Under the Constitution of India, Part III deals with the fundamental rights which apply to all citizens irrespective of sex. Article 15(3) of the Constitution makes special provisions for women and children, it empowers the State to make special legislation in this regard.  

However, there are no proposals yet taken into consideration by the government to make provisions for paid menstrual leave mandatory for all workplaces. In recent years we have seen only failed attempts to bring the proposal of menstrual leave. The first attempt was made in 2017, by then congress MP from Arunachal Pradesh, which advocated for four-day leave during menstruation, subsequently, The Right to Menstrual Hygiene and Paid Leave Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lower House by Congress MP from Tamil Nadu, M S Jothimani, which proposed a right to “paid leave” and absence from work for three days of the menstrual cycle. Then again in 2022, Congress MP from Kerala, Hibi Eben, introduced The Right of Women to Menstrual leave and Free Access to Menstrual Health Products Right. This Bill proposed paid leave and absence from work for three days during her menstruation.[iv]  

Only Bihar became the first state in India in the year 1992, and one of the first in the world to introduce the policy of menstrual leave. The State of Kerela was also added to the list which allowed menstrual leave for their college and university students.

Recently, in the winter session of the Parliament, the Women and Child Development Minister made a controversial statement on paid menstrual leave at workplaces, stating as – “Menstruation cycle is not a handicap”.[v] On one hand it is considered that such leaves could create obstacles in achieving equal opportunities for women.

However, on the other hand, the pain and discomfort a woman goes through during the period cycle cannot be expressed in words. A survey of Indian female students in the Global Journal of Health Sciences in 2015 reported that a staggering 70.2% had dysmenorrhea. This means period cramps and pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis. Women who experienced mild pain on average absented for one-and-a-half days a month while the average was 2.1±1.2 and 2.5±1.3 days for those who experienced moderate and severe forms of dysmenorrhea respectively. About 23% of dysmenorrhea women experienced pain for 2-3 days and the rest for 1-1.5 days. [vi]

The matter of period cramps, level of discomfort, and hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle differs from woman to woman. During the menstrual cycle, a woman goes through many discomforts which include problems like vomiting, sleeping problems, and fever too and which results in difficulty in maintaining a level of consistency and productivity, and affects her daily activities. Some women who suffer from Endometriosis experience extreme pain and fainting spells during these times. A woman may find it difficult to express any discomfort related to menstruation in her workplace due to the stigma attached to it in our society, as now it is considered to be a taboo topic. Women are not allowed to enter the kitchen, touch certain food, or enter temples, the case of Sabrimala Temple is to be specially mentioned regarding the discrimination against women and girls of reproductive age.   

But then again, the question arises even if the policy of menstruation paid leave gets implemented in India, how productive will it be? Will it Work? Will the women workforce of the country accept and take menstrual leave or will they be reluctant to take the leave? The Policy of menstrual leave has its own benefits but practically its success on the reality ground is a matter of contradiction.

CONCLUSION

The matter of implementation of the menstrual leave policy is a matter of great contradiction, however, the implementation of the policy will be a meaningful step to break the age-old stereotypes and will provide a healthy and good work practice. The Constitution of India has provided rights irrespective of gender, provided provisions to make laws for the benefit of women. It is important to evolve the stigma relating to the concept of menstruation, the freedom of decision to take or not to take leave during the period days should be given to women and girls. 

REFERENCES

[i] Dr. S.C.Tripathi and Mrs. Vibha Arora, Law Relating to Women and Children by (Page no- 5), Fifth Edition 2012 2 Madhu Krishnan vs State of Bihar (1956) 5 SCC 148 

[ii] Menstrual Hygiene Scheme: National Health Mission

[iv] Row over paid leave for menstruation: How Parliament took up the issue over the years: The Indian Express,

[v] Row over paid leave for menstruation: How Parliament took up the issue over the years: The Indian Express,

[vi] Menstrual Leave: India First Needs to Get Rid of the Taboo of Menstruation by Sameena Dalwai, https://m.thewire.in/article/rights/india-menstrual-leave-taboo 


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