By Rishmanoor Kaur
After a few YouTube videos and Akshay Kumar’s Padman, the period conversation in Indian media has come to a halt. But every month 1.8 billion people have their period, and a huge chunk of them do so in their workplace. Just like any bodily function, menstruating is normal. But what is the condition of menstruators in the workplace? The unneeded embarrassment shown through pads crumpled in pockets or a kurti’s sleeves alienates a huge part of a menstruator’s life. There is a need for change in how people approach menstruation in the workplace.
Firstly, it is okay that a menstruator’s body functions differently from a person who doesn't. It is okay to have different needs. These needs affect a person’s productivity, focus and well being. It makes sense that people in the workplace would like to know and care more about periods, but this does not happen in reality. The simple matter of acknowledging and caring that your employees’ have periods can significantly improve their experience.
One simple way recruiters can improve their condition is to provide free period supplies. This includes pads, tampons, pain-killers and even hot water bottles in the workplace. The cost of these are relatively cheap and can immensely increase their productivity. There is a need for this because of two reasons in theory. Firstly, many people can not afford period products and providing these can decrease their stress immensely. Pads and tampons should be free, just like toilet paper. Many people receive their period unexpectedly in public without the supplies they need, with many feeling panicked, embarrassed and anxious as a result. Some of these people go to a shop to buy supplies, some ask other women if they have something and others go home for what they need. These inconveniences take time away from work hours and add to the stress experienced by the menstruator. According to Free The Tampons’ research, it costs about $4.67 (₹ 355) per female employee to provide free sanitary products annually. That is less than a fancy cup of coffee. Leaving tampons in for over the recommended time is extremely dangerous and leaves the person at risk for toxic shock etc. Therefore, employers should make sure that everyone always has access to enough products to ensure a change every few hours. This sounds obvious but is often neglected, ensuring that sanitary bins are present in the toilets is also of the utmost importance.
Menstrual leaves are a controversial topic. Essentially, it means allowing people to take a certain amount of time off a month to deal with the myriad symptoms they may experience in the lead up to or during their period. Every person’s experiences of menstruation are different. Some experience excruciating pain; others not so much. Some people have longer periods and some have shorter ones. However, it would be nice to have the choice to take a day off, instead of calling in sick and having to explain how they should be able to deal with it after taking a painkiller.
Also, no one should be looked down on if they do choose to take a period leave. No one should be required to endure pain to just be taken seriously. Overall, creating a period-friendly workplace comes down to simply trusting menstruators. Trust people to know when they are most productive and when they need rest – if people know they’re going to need to take two days off, they’re going to make sure they get the work assigned to them done. But if people know that they are expected to come in anyway despite their pain for fear of repercussions, they’re going to work at the same pace but potentially will be less productive because they are in pain etc. So sometimes taking a day or two off in the short-run ultimately might actually turn out to be more beneficial for both the menstruator and the company in the long-run. If someone is already in pain, having emotional mood swings, and feeling bad for not being as productive as they usually are, they do not need the added stress from a superior who doesn’t understand the reasons why. This will hinder their productivity and that ultimately will not help the company. And if employees don’t feel supported or feel there is animosity with other colleagues for taking time off, this will hinder their productivity as well. People can be trusted to not take advantage of these measures. There is already such taboo and stigma around periods that menstruators are reluctant to address them at all even if they are really struggling. Trust menstruators to make the best decision for them and the company.