Is paid period leave for women a necessity or hindrance in the workplace?

Is paid period leave for women a necessity or hindrance in the workplace?

In order to take a stand against period stigma in the workplace, Zomato introduced paid period leave of 10 days per year to their female and transmen employees. This bold move by the company has ignited a debate about the significance and consequences of a period leave policy in India.

While Zomato’s move was hailed as a progressive step by the large majority of social media users and women’s rights activists, there were a few critics as well who believed it will stereotype women as weak and incompetent. According to the critics, period leave reverses the hard won gain of the feminist movement in India which was achieving equality of men and women in the workplace.

It is crucial to note that women’s participation rate in the Indian economy, be it the informal or formal economy, has been decreasing over the last decade (and is currently at 23.3% i.e. three out of four women are not working). The majority of work done by women is invisible, such as informal and domestic work. Therefore, period leave as an option is available for primarily urban and semi-urban women working in the service sector or government jobs.

Period leave is necessary for those women who experience severe menstrual conditions and symptoms such as:

  • Dysmenorrhea
  • Endometriosis
  • PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Severe ovulation pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhoea

Even during menopause (i.e., the end of menstrual cycles), women are likely to experience symptoms such as:

  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Night Sweats
  • Sleep problems
  • Swelling of feet or ankles
  • Mild memory problems

These symptoms can hamper a woman’s productivity at her job — both mentally and physically. In addition to this: women purchase painkillers and prescription hormone pills which can be a financial burden on them, given the gender pay gap. Due to these reasons, period leave is a welcome move.

On the flip side to this, there might be concerns about some employees taking advantage of their period leave. There are also concerns that period leave may affect the promotions and bonuses of women employees. It is arguable that the vast benefits of period leave which is to help women get through the first day of painful menstruation far outweigh these few concerns. In the post-COVID world, ‘work from home’ can be the solution — and women can work comfortably from their houses.

It is important to note that beyond instituting a period leave policy, workplaces and offices should create an empathetic and compassionate culture amongst their employees. Care should be taken to invest in women-friendly spaces like restrooms, clean sanitation and hygiene facilities, spacious bathrooms with extra toilets and sanitary-product dispensary machines.

As pain levels are a subjective experience, with some women having mixed pain levels from one cycle to the next or some women who have no pain or symptoms whatsoever, taking period leave or not should be left to their discretion. In Bihar, women government employees are allowed two days off per month as special leave. Interestingly, period leave is a legal right for women in Japan.

In the same spirit of sick leave, period leave will offer time for employees to take care of their health and come back to work rested and energised. It is estimated that if employment of women were increased, it would exponentially boost India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

From an economic point of view, it is profitable for companies to invest in women. It is important that more women enter politics and take up positions of power in business as CEO’s and leaders to further encourage a diversified and inclusive workforce.

Period leave will encourage women to admit they are taking a leave due to their periods and not lie about another illness to their Zomato’s period leave policy will set a precedent and serve as a model for other companies in India to follow suit.