Menstrual leave: The topic of debate

Why in News?

  • Menstrual leave is a workplace policy that allows female employees to take time off from work during their menstrual cycle due to physical discomfort or pain. This policy has been a topic of debate, with some arguing that it is necessary to accommodate the needs of women during their period, while others argue that it creates discrimination and reinforces gender stereotypes.


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

Menstrual leave and the debate:

  • Widespread conversation in recent years: The adoption of voluntary menstrual leave policies by some companies in recent years has led to a widespread conversation on periods in India.
  • Termed as Special leave for women: When the Bihar government implemented a period leave policy in 1992, it was termed special leave for women due to the stigma attached to the word menstruation.
  • Normalising conversation: The recent initiative by employers to provide period leave has been discussed and debated in the public sphere, thereby normalising the conversation around menstruation to an extent.

Who are menstruators?

  • Menstruators is an inclusive term refers to individuals who have female reproductive anatomy and experience menstrual periods.
  • It includes, women, trans men, and non-binary persons as well.
  • This biological process also decouples menstruation from womanhood.

Arguments in favour:

  • Biological process comes with physical pain: Though menstruation is a biological process, it is accompanied by cramps, nausea, back and muscle pains, headaches, etc.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Additionally, these can take a debilitating form amongst menstruating people who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.
  • For instance: In India, 20 per cent of menstruators have PCOS and approximately 25 million suffer from endometriosis. The intensity of pain can vary for individuals for a variety of reasons.
  • Acknowledges the reality: For many menstruators, it is a biological process intertwined with medical symptoms. Mandatory period leave is an affirmative action policy that acknowledges this reality.
  • Kerala governments announcement is a welcome step: The Kerala government’s announcement to grant menstrual leave to all female students of state universities is a welcome move that takes the discourse a step further into educational institutions.
  • It should be replicated across universities and schools in India: This will also help reduce the drop-out rates of female students from government schools in rural India caused by the lack of clean toilets, running water, sanitary pads, etc.

Arguments against:

  • Fear of bias in hiring: The major opposition to a menstrual leave policy is the fear of bias in hiring due to the financial costs to employers. Discriminatory hiring has been a cause of concern in many countries.
  • Probable decline in women labour force participation: It is often equated to the decline in the labour force participation of women following the introduction of mandatory paid maternity leave.
  • Medicalising normal biological process: Period leave is often seen as medicalising a normal biological process.

Did you know?

  • “Female sugarcane cutters surgically remove their uteri to secure work”
  • A widely accepted menstrual health framework can also ameliorate the conditions of female workers in the unorganised sector.
  • In Maharashtra’s Beed district, contractors in the sugarcane industry do not hire anyone who menstruates.
  • More than 10,000 female sugarcane cutters have had to surgically remove their uteri to secure work.
  • Most of them are in their twenties and thirties, and now experience various post-surgery health complications. Such exploitation is a human rights violation.

Way ahead:

  • Need to bridge the gaps: The path to equality does not lie in inaction due to fear of further discrimination. What is needed is a holistic outlook aimed at bridging existing gaps.
  • Comprehensive and inclusive approach is must: The implementation of menstrual leave should be based on a comprehensive and inclusive approach that takes into account the needs and rights of all employees, regardless of gender.
  • Mandatory self-care leaves as an alternative: Employers should be made to introduce a mandatory self-care leave as an alternative to period leaves for those who cannot avail of the latter. Employees should be able to utilise their self-care leave as they deem fit. This will reduce burnout and increase productivity.
  • Self-care leave will also destigmatise menstruation: The names menstrual leave and self-care leave will also destigmatise menstruation and self-care respectively. Further, employers should be made to implement a stringent diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) framework.
  • Safeguards menstruators in unorganized sector: A formal menstrual leave policy in the organized sector can act as a catalyst in safeguarding menstruators in the unorganized sector too.
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