Menstrual leave is a crucial as well as ignored subject in India. Bihar is the only state in India which has been giving two days of special leave each month to its female workers since 1992. Most importantly there is no legislation of menstrual leave in India as it is from time immemorial considered a neglected issue. Thus it is crucial as well as need of an hour to have legislation on the same.
The issue of menstrual leave as of late picked up consideration when Ninong Ering, a member of Lok Sabha from Arunachal Pradesh, moved a Private Member's Bill, 'The Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017', which seeks to provide working women two days of paid menstrual leave every month. It applies to both women in public as well as private sector. Not only this but it also seeks to provide better facilities for rest at the workplace during menstruation. It also includes providing women the flexibility to take time off, and with options like working from home. The benefits are also extended to female students of Class VIII and above in government recognised schools.
Several countries have introduced a menstrual leave provision for their employees. Countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan provides menstrual leave to their employees every month. Companies like Nike have also adopted similar policies. In the recent past, a handful of private companies like the Mumbai based media firm, Cultural Machine, have also started offering menstrual leave. Women can decide which two days of the month they would like to take off without having to provide any justification for doing so.
Is it against Right to Equality?
Article 15(1) of the Constitution of India prohibits the state from discriminating any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. However, Article 15(3) empowers the state to make special provisions for women and children which is an exception to the general rule laid down in the Article 15(1). This protective discrimination is a necessity to maintain social equality where there has been a history of discrimination against women.
Thus menstrual leave policies like the other women’s rights legislations such as the Maternity Benefit Act (1961), The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act ( 2005) etc, will not infringe the Article 15(1) of the Constitution of India. Also Article 42 of the Constitution of India envisages that the state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
In spite of the fact that the administration has given protective measures particularly to women workers under different labour laws like the Factories Act, 1948, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 and so forth, wherein the parts of wellbeing, leave and working hours are given, the possibility of menstrual leave finds no notice and attention.
Several studies indicate that the efficiency levels of women are low during menstruation. Therefore, availing a leave during the menstrual cycle would not affect the productivity of the organisation and the economy. Emphasis must be on labour productivity and quality of output rather than long hours of work. Thus it is high time that the country stops being ignorant of the issue of menstrual leave instead there should be a specific provision on the same.