Setting off a debate among startups and companies around the country, digital media startup Culture Machine – a Mumbai-based company – has initiated a period day leave for its women employees.
The video of the company announcing the decision to its employees – who greet it with joy – has been doing the rounds on social media, sparking a debate on whether such a policy is required or practical. Several people have also wondered if this is merely a PR exercise.
TNM spoke to 16 women employed in different industries, including HR professionals, to get their view on whether they'd welcome period leave in their respective organisations. Of the 16, only 3 felt it was a welcome policy.
All the women we spoke to are between ages 25 and 40.
Here's what they said.
My period is private, thank you
Mini*, a senior HR professional in a major IT company, says, "I don't think the majority of women here would be comfortable saying that they are on their period.”
“The media company might have such an open atmosphere, but we have people from different kinds of backgrounds... who are not used to having such conversations – men and women – and I don't think they'll be comfortable at all," she adds.
Mini is not far off the mark. Vanitha*, an IT professional working in another company, concurs. "Why should I announce to someone that I'm on my period?" she asks.
She goes on to say that not every woman has regular periods: "What if I don't get it every month? I might have a medical condition because of which I need to wait for it for several days / weeks or months. Wouldn't it be stupid if someone is actually looking into the records of such a leave?”
“As such companies have the normal leaves and sick leave. Let the woman who wants a leave take it from her sick leaves if she is really in need of a rest from commute/working," she suggests.
Jahnavi G, a marketing research professional, says that she's absolutely cool discussing periods with anyone. However, she doesn't like the idea of her employer having a record of her menstruation cycle.
Anne Preethi, an IT employee, asks, "If women are uncomfortable asking for leave because they have cramps, how are they going to explicitly take period leave?"
But why should it be private any more?
While it's true that a majority of women don't wish to announce that they're on their period, some ask why that should be the status quo.
Krithika*, who works in the recruitment industry and has painful periods, says that she actually had to explain to her male boss why she wanted to take off whenever she had her period.
"He was a married man but had no idea about what women go through when they are on their period!" she says.
Hitting out at the hush-hush culture around periods, she asks: "We have to fake a fever and say we're unwell when asking for leave. Why do we have to lie?"
Priyanka Raman, who works in digital marketing, does not understand what the fuss is about: "If you have a headache you say I have a headache, one must have the same liberty to do that with period cramps. And since it's something many women suffer every month, what is wrong about making it a law?”
Nithya Seetharaman, who works in an audit firm, points out that she's not productive on these days anyway and asserts that she'd like to have the option of taking off: "I used to have terrible, crippling pain on the second day and am not very productive on these days anyway. I'd snap and wouldn't be in a pleasant mood. It's a physical discomfort and I don't see a point in not resting or taking it easy."
It's just not practical
Ritu*, a teacher, suffers from dysmenorrhea. However, she doesn't think it's feasible for her to take four days off every month. "I struggle all four days but I make do. It's debilitating yes, but not paralysing. I have my tricks to get past the pain and I manage just fine."
Anuradha Nirankumar, an IT professional, says that managing ad hoc leaves can be quite difficult. "If within the same team two or more people have the same dates, the project delivery might get affected."
Ahalya Natarajan, also from the same industry, observes that comparing maternity leave to period leave is unfair: "Maternity leave is not sudden. Women work for 7-9 months before going on maternity leave, so there's more than sufficient time to plan their deliverables. What planning can be done in such short notice for a period?"
Mini, the HR professional, laughs and says that there are people in her organisation who have even 70 days of accumulated leave, but have not been able to take off because of their work schedules.
"People aren't taking the leave they already have," she quips.
Other countries have it, why not us?
Priyanka Raman, who has worked previously in Indonesia, asks why we cannot consider a period leave option when other countries have it.
"Countries like Japan, Indonesia, and South Korea have menstrual leave," she says, pointing out that South Korea even pays women additionally if they don't use the menstrual leave that they are entitled to.
Unlike the skeptics who believe employees will take undue advantage of the policy and take off even when they don't need the leave, Priyanka says that most people are conscious of their deliverables when they are in satisfying jobs at supportive workplaces.
It will lead to more inequality
A major concern that a lot of women have is that period leave would be perceived as playing the "woman card" yet again. As it is, many managers are of the view that women employees tend to take off more than their male counterparts because of maternity and childcare.
Sangeetha Arunachalam, who runs a CA firm, feels that casual leave and sick leave are more than enough for women employees to manage their periods. She herself suffers from severe cramps which makes it difficult for her to stand during those days but believes a period leave would be unfair to men.
Although Krithika would like to have period leave, she acknowledges that if period leave became a policy that had to be implemented in companies, there would be repercussions when it comes to hiring.
"As it is, we find that CTOs and CEOs think women can't keep up with deadlines...they take maternity leave and have too many breaks in their careers. Period leave will discourage them even more from hiring women," she says.
Being the same isn't equality
Priyanka Raman feels pretending men and women are the same doesn't make sense if we're looking to create a more equal workspace. Pointing out that we’ve finally begun taking employees’ mental health seriously, Priyanka says it's high time we acknowledged the very real pain that women go through every month.
"Surprise surprise, most of us like our jobs, don't like work piling up and even with severe cramps, have learnt to work after popping some pills. We may come in half a day late but you bet we will finish the week with all our tasks done. Except certain jobs like say teaching or assembly line, most companies won’t fall apart if someone in their team isn't available one or two days a month," she says.
*Names changed on request