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Paid Menstrual Leave: Boon Or A Bane?

"I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my feminity and I want to be respected in all my femaleness because I deserve to be." by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Women have always been the source of all political debates, the most talked of topic for centuries what may differ is the connotation of the debates, but the topic has always been the same. Stimulation of sensitive issues such as caste and women is the most efficient propaganda that politicians have been using ever since and have seen some successful game changing power plays.

A similar kind of incident is sparking controversy all around the country however, the core issue that is paid menstrual leave is not a contemporary topic. Questions on the same have been leveled up but have not been acquainted with until now. in the winter session of parliament when the demand to pass the bill to provide menstrual leave took place. Minister of Women and Child development Smriti Irani in the course of countering said a statement which stirred debate about this age-old topic yet again.

"Paid menstrual leave" is not an easy topic to deal with firstly because it is related to women which in itself is a sensitive topic and the other being there are several constitutional provisions tied with it which people on both sides who are supporting it and who are not are using. herein, this article will give you an insight into the whole background of the topic and also probe all the provisions involved within this context.

We do talk about gender equality and equal treatment to be given to both male and female neglecting any bias but there is a physical inherent difference between the two which cannot be denied . Menstruation is the normal monthly bleeding that occurs in women, which causes certain dizziness, stomach cramps which range from normal to severe . Thus demand for breaks or leave during menstruation has been put forward several times . The demand has gained momentum with several attempts made in the parliament to introduce a legislation such that it would address the same .

In this context the adage " One size does not fit all" resonates, the impact of menstruation on women varies. certain women are significantly affected rendering them unable to efficiently perform their tasks, while others do not encounter significant health impediments thus can manage their work without substantial disruption. Which leads to the confusion whether do we need legislation which will impact fewer number of individual or a nuanced approach should be indulged so as to accommodate diverse needs within the legal framework.

India is not the only country where demand for paid menstrual leave has arisen, numerous countries have witnessed similar petitions which have become successful too and legislations had to be drafted. Japan is considered to be one of the pioneers, as provision for paid leave has been in effect for 70 years . Though Japan is one of the first country where this provision of period leave came into effect, but it does not imply gender neutrality or absence of gender inequality.

On the contrary Japan has a notable disparity in the work front, women constitute the smallest portion in the industrial workforce holding fewer managerial positions. This compels contemplation on whether providing period leave would be a boon for women or it could further reinforce the existing gender disparities, casting women as less capable than their male counterparts.

Women have come a long way, Today in the professional landscape they have carved out a significant space for themselves amidst the challenges and adversities that they have faced. What they seek today is rightful treatment alongside their male counterparts rather than special or differential treatment. However, introduction of paid menstrual leave would harbor inequality in the workplace all over again.

Sanctioning leaves solely based on menstruation would discourage employers to hire women , potentially hindering the goal of increasing women participation in the corporate houses, factory floors etc . This concern would also extend to matters of promotion or giving equal opportunities to women, with them perceived as incapacitated. Jeopardizing the overarching objective of workplace gender equality and equitable representation and participation of women.

The challenges associated with implementing menstrual leave becomes grave in certain professional domains, such as women engaged in civil services for instance - if a woman hold the position of an IPS officer and does not experience painful periods, she might be inadvertently denied of crucial opportunities like leading a mission. This is primarily due to the potential stigmatization resulting from this leave policy, leading to questions being put on a women's capability.

Within the realm of education, which comprises women as a significant constituent of the workforce, the proposal to grant period leaves to teachers raises questions about the functioning of the school and hindrance to the academic curriculum of a student.

Similarly, the idea of exempting female students from internal school examinations is still conceivable but can this be extended to critical examinations like matriculation or intermediate exams? The pertinent answer is NO

Even in the context of national level competitive exams, proposal of exempting a female candidate due to menstruation is not a plausible option, because it could lead to disruption of the entire examination process. Thus, attempting to generalize all women that they are less efficient during periods is an untenable argument to make given the achievements who have consistently secured top positions in various exams.

On concluding I would like to highlight that a blanket approach fails to address the diverse needs and experiences of a menstruating individuals. Thus, rather than imposing a uniform mandate from a centralized authority, communities and institutions at the ground level should be empowered to tailor suitable solutions according to respective circumstances as it is evident from past experiences that a decentralized approach has consistently proven to be more beneficial . By doing so, we acknowledge the inherent diversity among women and ensure that policies are responsive to the varied challenges they face.

While menstrual leave bill represents a step towards recognizing the needs of menstruating individuals but keeping a uniform approach towards the same is undermining the capabilities of women. It pulls them back from the heights they have managed to achieve amidst numerous challenges and hardships thus its success hinges upon the adoption of flexible and inclusive measures that prioritize the well being and agency of all women.

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