Menstrual leave: A contentious issue

Menstrual leave is a workplace policy that allows female employees to take time off work due to physical discomfort or pain during their menstrual cycle. This policy has been a source of contention, with some arguing that it is necessary to accommodate women’s needs during their periods, while others argue that it promotes discrimination and reinforces gender stereotypes.


  • Kerala government recently announced that all state universities under the Department of Higher Education will provide menstrual leave to female students.
  • The declaration came shortly after the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) announced its decision to grant menstruation leave to all female students in response to a request from the students’ union.

The Menstrual Leave Debate

  • In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about: In recent years, the adoption of voluntary menstrual leave policies by some companies has sparked a widespread discussion about periods in India.
  • When the Bihar government implemented a period leave policy in 1992, it was dubbed “special leave for women” due to the stigma associated with the word menstruation.
  • Conversation normalisation: Employers’ recent initiative to provide period leave has been discussed and debated in the public sphere, to some extent normalising the conversation about menstruation.

What are menstruators?

  • Menstruators is an umbrella term for people who have female reproductive anatomy and have menstrual periods.
  • Women, trans men, and non-binary people are all included.
  • Menstruation is also decoupled from womanhood as a result of this biological process.

Arguments in support

  • Physical pain is associated with biological processes: Menstruation is a biological process, but it is accompanied by cramps, nausea, back and muscle pains, headaches, and other symptoms.
  • PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome): Furthermore, these can be debilitating in menstruating women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.
  • As an example: PCOS affects 20% of menstruators in India, and endometriosis affects approximately 25 million. Individuals’ pain thresholds can vary for a variety of reasons.
  • Recognizes the reality: For many menstruators, menstruation is a biological process entwined with medical symptoms. Affirmative action policies such as mandatory period leave recognise this reality.
  • The announcement by the Kerala government is a positive step: The Kerala government’s announcement that all female students at state universities will be granted menstrual leave is a welcome step that moves the conversation into educational institutions.
  • It should be replicated in Indian universities and schools: This will also help to reduce female dropout rates from government schools in rural India, which are caused by a lack of clean toilets, running water, sanitary pads, and other amenities.

Arguments opposed

  • Fear of bias in hiring: Due to the financial costs to employers, the main opposition to a menstrual leave policy is the fear of bias in hiring. Many countries have expressed concern about discriminatory hiring.
  • Probable decline in female labour force participation: It is frequently equated with the decline in female labour force participation following the implementation of mandatory paid maternity leave.
  • Medicalization of natural biological processes: Period leave is frequently viewed as medicalizing a natural biological process.

Way forward

  • Bridging the Gaps: The path to equality does not lie in inaction for fear of further discrimination. What is required is a comprehensive approach aimed at closing existing gaps.
  • A comprehensive and all-inclusive approach is required: Menstrual leave should be implemented in a comprehensive and inclusive manner that considers the needs and rights of all employees, regardless of gender.
  • Mandatory self-care leaves as an alternative to period leaves: Employers should be forced to implement mandatory self-care leaves as an alternative to period leaves for those who are unable to take the latter. Employees should be able to use their self-care leave whenever they want. This will decrease burnout while increasing productivity.
  • The names menstrual leave and self-care leave will also help to de-stigmatize menstruation and self-care, respectively. Employers should also be required to implement a strict diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) framework.
  • Menstruating women are protected in the unorganised sector: A formal menstrual leave policy in the organised sector can help to protect menstruators in the unorganised sector as well.

@the end

Menstrual hygiene is a public health concern. Period leave cannot be dismissed as a foreign concept given the large population of menstruators in India who face stigma. It is a critical step toward ensuring reproductive health equity in India.

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